First night photographs from La Scala
Wednesday 17 October – 8pm – Premiere
Nicola Del Freo
The beggar chief
Vittoria Valerio, Agnese Di Clemente,Francesca Podini, Gaia Andreanò, Caterina Bianchi
Marco Agostino, Christian Fagetti, Mattia Semperboni
Manon was MacMillan’s second three-act ballet as artistic director of the Royal Ballet. Anastasia, three years before, had met with such trenchant criticism that MacMillan opted for a more familiar operatic story and structure. It is based on the 1731 novel by the Abbé Prévost, L’Histoire du Chevalier des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut, a story already used for operas by Massenet and Puccini.
MacMillan chose not to use Puccini’s score for Manon Lescaut, which was already in the Royal Opera repertoire, and instead used lesser-known music by Massenet.
Leighton Lucas, a former dancer with the Ballets Russes who had become a conductor for ballet and a composer of film scores, compiled and orchestrated a selection of Massenet’s music. The extracts come from overtures, opera ballets and incidental music for plays as well as from once obscure operas and oratorios.
MacMillan said that he found his clue to Manon’s behaviour in her background of poverty,
Manon is not so much afraid of being poor as ashamed of being poor. Poverty in that period was the equivalent of long, slow death.
Nicholas Georgiadis’s designs reflect the precarious division between opulence and degradation in pre-Revolutionary France. The ballet is set later in the 18th century than Prévost’s novel. Tiers of rags drape the background in the first two acts, half-hidden behind the architectural sets. Demi-monde characters flaunt their finery while beggars, thieves and prostitutes ply their trades.
When the Paris Opera Ballet took Manon into its repertoire in 1991, a legal wrangle resulted in MacMillan’s ballet being re-titled L’Histoire de Manon. The heir to Massenet’s estate had objected to possible confusion between the opera and the ballet. Henceforth, the ballet has been known in Europe (with the exception of the United Kingdom) as L’Histoire de Manon and in the rest of the world simply as Manon. At La Scala the ballet is known as L’Histoire de Manon.