Along with Gounod’s Faust and Bizet’s Carmen, Jules Massenet’s Manon is one of the most famous and beloved French operas in the repertoires of opera theatres. At the LNOBT the premiere of Manon was presented on 18 September, 2015. The production immediately attracted everyone’s attention and was greeted with very positive reviews from both the audience and the critics. According to the theatre’s general manager Gintautas Kėvišas, the main criterion for choosing creative team for Manon was its relation to the French operatic tradition. Thus, on the stage one can see the authentic chatter from the streets of Paris and the spellbinding charm of La Belle Époque.
What makes this opera so attractive, even after 130 years have passed since its premiere at the Opéra Comique theatre in Paris on 19 January, 1884? The storyline of Manon itself contains a great amount of historical, psychological and social meanings that reach out to the consciousness of a contemporary human being, appealing to everyone’s personal feelings. And still, the central element of this opera is one woman’s drama, the “score” of her ambivalent experiences that never seems to change even as the ages pass. Massenet, the talented creator of melodies and lyricism, was also a profound psychologist who was capable of expressing a wide palette of emotions with which he painted impressive portraits of women. His sensitively nuanced music, filled with honest intimacy, still stirs the hearts of audiences around the world.
Massenet manages to create an effective sound with a relatively modest amount of instruments. In his operas French text is masterfully combined with supple melodies, and the music itself is kind to the voices of opera soloists. It is gentle, peaceful, refined and subtle, overflowing with emotions and orchestral virtuosity, which combines scintillating velocity with transparency and an undeniable theatrical instinct. All operas by Massenet also serve as the most beautiful and intelligent examples of the culturally rich historical time La Belle Époque. The most popular of such operas, Manon, was unbelievably successful – its premieres followed one after another in the most important theatres of Europe and America. The opera was presented in Liverpool and New York (1885), London’s Royal Opera House (1891), Metropolitan Opera (1895; the theatre welcomed more than 300 different stagings of Manon!), San Francisco Opera Theatre (1924). Today, there exist thousands of performances and productions of Manon. Up to our days the number of productions of Manon are counted by thousands: until 1919 Opéra-Comique performed the opera 1000 times, by 1952 – 2000 times. In Lithuania Manon was presented in 1939 in Kaunas, and later, in 1964, it was welcomed in the city of Vilnius. According to Operabase, in 2012-2013 Massenet was the 20th most popular opera composer in the world, and the 4th creator among his French colleagues, following G. Bizet, J. Offenbach and Ch. Gounod.
Premiere 18 September, 2015