The key to Jules Massenet’s opera Manon – first performed at the Opéra-Comique, Paris, in 1884 – is the portrayal of the young Manon Lescaut, when she arrives at an Amiens coaching inn during the first scene. If she is miscast – the wrong key – the plot of Abbé Antoine François Prévost’s 18th century morality tale simply does not unlock. The opera fails. In this Laurent Pelly production at New York’s Met the key turns smoothly, the plot flows on entrancingly.
On the face of it, it is a simple enough story. Manon is a country girl, an ingénue, and the opera traces her path from innocence, through true love, compromised love, hedonistic corruption, redemption, hubris and on to tragic destruction.