(b. Montaud, 12 May 1842 – d. Paris, 13 August 1912)
Le Portrait de Manon
The story of the aristocratic Chevalier des Grieux and his undying passion for the mysterious and low-born Manon Les- caut was written by the Abbé Prévost in 1731. It had all the hallmarks of becoming a successful opera: a timeless tale of love, passion and betrayal, a strong female protagonist who embodies an éternel féminin shrouded in mystery, a series of spectacular and dramatic scenes taking us from Paris to New Orleans, and the final tragedy of Manon’s untimely death. And yet, it was not until the middle of the 19th century that any significant operatic version of the story saw the light, the Abbé Prévost’s novel becoming then the subject of no less than three operas in short succession, including Auber’s Manon Lescaut in 1856, Massenet’s acclaimed Manon in 1884 and Puccini’s popular Manon Lescaut in 1893.
Massenet’s Manon dominated the national and international operatic repertoire for decades. What is less well known is that he composed a one-act sequel to this opera, ten years later, premiered at the Opéra-Comique in Paris on the 8th May 1894, conducted by Jule Danbé, who had also premiered Manon, with Lucien Fugère as Des Grieux, Suzanne Elven as Jean, Jeanne Laisné as Aurore and Pierre Grivot, who had played Guillot in Manon, now appearing as Tiberge. The libret- tist for Le Portrait de Manon was Georges Boyer (1850-1931), a poet, playright and journalist. Massenet had already set to mu- sic several of his poems, including Si tu veux Mignone (1876) and Les Enfants (1881) as well as a cantata, Biblis (1887).
In 1894, having just finished composing Thaïs and to entertain himself before his next big project, Massenet began work on the music to this “epilogue” to Manon, as Le Portrait de Manon was described in the press at the time. Massenet ap- pears very fond of his new opera, describing it as an “exquisite distraction” and a “charming piece”, featuring an older Chevalier des Grieux and a “very poetic memory of Manon, long since dead” (Mes Souvenirs, 1912: 203-204). …
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