Monday, August 16, 2010

En elle tout séduit

The next time I desert this blog for a fortnight, Gentle Readers, I will try to give warning.  Half of this time I have spent working, and the other half emphatically not working, with a bevy of friends in a lake house far from the haunts of men (or at least the haunts of the internet); an idyllic retreat which had me humming "En fermant les yeux":

Admittedly, I often hum it in German, thanks to Fritz Wunderlich. But in either language, I find this irresistibly beautiful: the strings not only like wind and stream beside the little cottage, but like Des Grieux holding his beloved Manon in his arms.  Sigh.

When not playing in the lake, I studiously avoided the essays on medieval bishops I had brought, and read the Abbé Prévost's Manon Lescaut, something I'd been meaning to do for ages.  Now, Puccini's opera was love-at-first-listen for me thanks to an award-winning Domingo/Freni recording, and I'm currently having a fun time getting to know Massenet's (I have the Sills/Gedda recording currrently checked out of the NYPL, and am just starting on Laurent Pelly's acclaimed production through camilla0690's videos on YouTube.)  However, I continued to feel a bit stymied in my attempts to feel sympathy with the eponymous heroine whom Massenet describes as "indiscrète," "infidèle," but also and always "charmante."  Having read Prévost's novel, I feel that much has been made clear; the eighteenth-century setting comes vividly alive in the 1731 prose.  Also, the fact that the novel is narrated by Des Grieux makes the dual implication of the young lovers in their downward spiral much clearer.  Likewise, the simple fact that a two-hundred page novel has more space than a three-hour opera meant that the tragic differences between Manon's and the Chevalier's perspectives on what constitutes fidelity, and what is necessary to happiness, were developed with greater detail.  While I don't think I would want to make a habit of reading all the textual sources for operas, I certainly enjoyed this one.   Humor, pathos, foreshadowed doom, young love, and religious anxiety created a potpourri which gave me guilty pleasure reading and the discovery of an influential classic at the same time! Manon will probably always remain a sphinx étonnant, but at least now I feel I understand enough of the protagonists not to be annoyed.

Note: a strange half-written and half-edited version of this post got published instead of the complete one.  Technology outsmarted me and I do not know how!  My apologies, Gentle Readers.

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