For love or Money

Thursday, February 14, 2008

On Saturday, the Town Plaza Cinema will be presenting Giacomo Puccini's opera "Manon Lescaut." This live broadcast from the Metropolitan Opera will begin at noon (note the early starting time). There will be an encore broadcast at 2 p.m. Sunday.

"Manon Lescaut" was Puccini's first successful opera. It tells the story of a young woman who can't decide which she wants more: love or money. She tries to have both, but things don't work out the way she had planned.

As the opera begins, Manon, an innocent young woman, is being accompanied by her brother to a convent.

Why her family has decided to send her there is not made clear. When her coach makes a stop at the town of Amiens, she sees a young nobleman named des Grieux and he sees her. Of course, they immediately fall in love and run off to Paris in a stolen coach.

After spending some time with her lover, Manon becomes bored with poverty and becomes the mistress of an older man, but this situation also bores her so she decides to reunite with des Grieux. However, the older man finds out and has her arrested.

Act III is, in my opinion, the most dramatic and moving part of the opera. It takes place in the harbor town of Le Havre. Manon and some other women have been accused of prostitution and they are being shipped off to a prison colony in Louisiana. It is dawn. Manon's brother and her lover are there and they are going to attempt to rescue her. As they watch from the sidelines, the women step forth one by one as their names are called.

After a desperate plea, des Grieux convinces the ship's captain to take him on board and he and Manon leave for the United States.

In the final act of the opera, the young lovers are alone in a wilderness area of Louisiana after fleeing from New Orleans. Des Grieux goes to find help and left alone, Manon dies of exhaustion and exposure.

The opera contains some of the most beautiful music Puccini ever composed and of all his operas, this one is my personal favorite. It will be a performance not to be missed.

Barb Herbert of Cape Girardeau is an opera lover and host of Southeast Public Radio's "Sunday Night at the Opera."

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