This was Puccini's version of Manon, not the better-known Massenet.
ETA: My mother remarks, in email: Just looked at your LJ entry. It's interesting that you think of the Massenet "Manon" as better known than the Puccini. Must be generational -- and specific to your generation. Actully, after Puccini premiered his version, the French one dropped into obscurity -- where it more or less remained until the last twenty years or so. Massenet has had a revival in general during that time. Yep. Prior to this season, I'm pretty sure the only Manon opera I'd even heard of was the Massenet... I guess, with that one having experienced its revival, and there being so many other better Puccini operas, the Puccini Manon has just been out of favor over the period that I've been exposed to opera.
It's Puccini's third opera, his first major success, and the first opera to exhibit what would become his signature style, both in terms of material and music. You can already hear bits and pieces of the musical patterns that will develop into the brilliance of La Boheme, Madama Butterfly, Tosca, and Turandot.
I don't think I'd rank it as a masterpiece, though. His musical style is wonderful, though it's not as well-developed as it will get by his next work, Boheme. And the characters definitely have the Puccini-esque emotional hyper-realism -- they're in an absurd plot, but react to it in believably human ways. But Manon is a cliche and rather annoying morality play. An ingenue headed for a convent runs away with a young student, then abandons him for a wealthy patron (who had actually wanted to abduct her earlier, which is what prompted her to run off with the student), then tries to escape the patron for her student again but instead ends up getting arrested (for prostitution and trying to steal some of the jewels the patron gave her), and is shipped off to a penal colony (with the student along for the ride, having begged the captain of the ship to let him work for passage), and ultimately, having fled the colony so that the officers wouldn't separate her from her lover, dies in a desert wasteland. (In, um, Louisina. Let's just ignore that bit -- clearly Puccini didn't know much American geography at the time.)
I thought the story would've been improved by transferring some of the agonized music from the final act to some appropriate earlier point, and ending the opera with a more uplifting take on leaving for the New World -- have a nice vision of the new life they'll build together, and leave it at that. I suppose I'm a sucker for happy endings, and a bit of a romantic about the American Dream. And it bugs me how rare happy endings are in opera, outside the comedies. This would be a big departure from the novel the opera is based on, which of course is the 19th century equivalent of the various wretched paperbacks and movies meant to communicate the message that if you pursue even one instant of hedonistic pleasure, rather than accepting your officially sanctioned role as an unquestioning cog in society's machine, you'll lose your mind, get debauched and/or raped, and die miserable and penniless.
The performances were decent, though at least from where we were sitting, the orchestra and chorus occasionally drowned out the soloists, in the more complex layered sections. And the production design (sets, lighting, costumes) was lavish. So, all in all, good but not great. Hopefully Carmen, which I'm going to on 12/3, will be better. On the bright side, my companion, who'd never seen an opera before, liked it enough that she's planning to try to get student-rush tickets to one of the last two performances of Barber. Yay for creating new opera fans! Soon, we will conquer the world! (Wait, isn't that supposed to be for converting people to political activism, not opera?)
When we got home, roommate G~, who was supposed to be meeting his cousin for dinner, was nowhere to be found, and it turned out he was up in the city somewhere. (On a date, I think?) So Xta went out to get more eggs, while the cousin and I chopped up a bunch of veggies, using up most of our remaining broccoli and green beans, and all of the green onions, cilantro, and half a sweet pepper. (We're almost out of stuff from the farmshare now, and it's over for the year. I'm looking forward to next year, when we'll get fresh organic veggies again, but not in quite such a deluge, since we'll be splitting it with pusifoot.) Xta got back in time to dice a block of cheddar.
I had intended to make either an omelette or a scramble, but after sauteeing the veggies in some bacon grease (saved from last week when we made a couple strips to use in a broccoli salad), and pouring in the beaten eggs and sprinkling the bits of cheddar over the top, I realized that there really wasn't enough room in the pan to stir effectively, so I figured, what the heck, I can make a frittata. I turned the oven onto low broil, and let that warm up while the pan sat on the stove long enough that I stopped seeing steam bubbles emerging from the egg, then stuck it in the oven, with rack in the second-highest position, and watched it til the cheese was bubbly and slightly browned, and lastly let it cool on the stove top so the residual heat would finish cooking the interior. I'd never tried that before, but it actually came out really well, with the edges fully solidified, like quiche, and the middle, with the cheese, just the slightest bit softer. It even came out of the pan in fairly neat slices. Salivating over culinary books, articles, and encyclopedias pays off!
It strikes me that shifting from a French-style egg dish to an Italian one was very much in keeping with the opera -- Puccini had taken great pride in re-interpreting the French novel of Manon, previously brought to the stage by a French operatic composer, to read in the passions that typify late-19th-century Italian opera (especially Puccini).