Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Giacomo Puccini - Manon Lescaut, Callas, Di Stefano, Fioravanti, Teatro Alla Scala, Serafin (EMI - 29 0041 3)

I owe my love of opera totally to my mother whom started taking me to the opera house when I was 7 years old. I was thinking quite radically at that time concerning opera since they were not singing in my own language and I had no idea what they were meaning, but I was stunned by the sheer strength of their voices as well as the stage preparation. However, all the program details we received consisted of only a brief explanation of the story and not the translation of the libretto. This I believe is the biggest mistake our opera house had.

Manon Lescaut is the opera of Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924) whom most opera lovers know quite well due his series of frequently performed works like Tosca, Turandot, Madama Butterfly and La Boheme. He is regarded as continuity of Italian opera after Guiseppe Verdi, but his style has more resemblances to Richard Wagner.

Manon Lescaut is an opera based on the story of Abbe Prevost. The libretto was written by 5 different librettists and therefore none have been credited officially. Manon Lescaut was the third opera of Puccini and it was the first one to earn him fame in Europe. It is also among the most performed operas in the world still. However, there are two more operas based on the same story one with the same name and the other named just as Manon by Jules Massenet. Both were written before Puccini's version. I have no single idea why a story attracted this much of an interest in the views of composers apart from the fact that it has intrigue and human weaknesses in its plot which are by and large the most compelling points of operas.

This version that I have listened was recorded in 1959 and involves a giant cooperation under Tullio Serafin where Maria Callas performs as Manon Lescaut, Giulio Fioravanti as Lescaut (Her brother) and Giuseppe Di Stefano as Des Grieux (Her lover). It was performed in Del Teatro Alla Scala Di Milano as usual for Serafin himself. The record I have is a digitally mastered version of the original, yet still mono and is dated 1982. Sorry to have limited sources to search and buy the original version.

Maria Callas can be listened in a very strong performance throughout the 4 acts even though as standard, she is at her best in the 4th act. She performs with such ferocity and poetry at times that you don't miss not being there as you can directly imagine yourself sitting in the opera house. Giuseppe Di Stefano makes a powerful Des Grieux and compelling, but I have received comments that Pavarotti's performance was at a much higher level. That I shall see listen later on some day.

It is the second opera that I'm listening at home (The first was Madama Butterfly by Puccini again) and I should admit the first one went on with a little confusion on my part due to it being my first apart from an opera house. I needed a little time to adjust my perception and fuel my imagination, but it didn't take long with the libretto in hand. Opera recordings with librettos are a great help to humanity who don't have the knowledge of Italian or German in their portfolio. I am still in my warming stages of opera listening at home and it will take some time until I take on the daring Wagner's Ring cycle. That will be a true trial of my in house opera listening skills.

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