If you love the arts in all its beautiful forms like I do, then New York City is a place that you simply have to visit. Though living in the city proper is no easy task with the average rent skyrocketing into the high thousands per month, it certainly is a wondrous place to spend some time. If your stay in the city is short, then it’s best to make full use of your time there. I had the privilege of spending one of my evenings in Manhattan living what felt very much like a fantasy, attending a performance of Giacomo Puccini’s Manon Lescaut at the Metropolitan Opera, on stage at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. If you’re in Manhattan in the near future, take advantage of seeing this great opera before it closes on December 10. Curtain times vary, so to help with your plans, there is a complete schedule here.
To begin with, the Metropolitan Opera House at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts is a dazzling and opulent establishment with grand ceilings and lush décor, everything you want in a proper opera house. The staff there are gracious, friendly and professional, and happy to make all patrons feel welcome and at home. The Lincoln Center is easy to get to for those new to the city, it is located within the Upper West Side of Manhattan at 30 Lincoln Center Plaza situated between West 62nd and 35th Streets, and Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues. The Lincoln Center is the pinnacle of performance arts in New York for both performance and study as its campus also houses the highly acclaimed and reputed Juilliard School.
What often turns people away from the opera (unless you had opera integrated into your life early on from family members or teachers) is the idea of sitting through a long form production of a drama that is near impossible to understand as they’re often performed in a foreign language. In the rare times that an opera is performed in English, simply the way the words are drawn out and sung detract from the comprehension of them. Added to that, tickets to the opera generally start at a very high penny.
So allow me to assuage any hesitancy you might hold. With performances at the Met Opera, as lavish as the venue is, they do their best to make opera accessible to everyone without taking away from the integrity of the piece. Manon Lescaut sits at just over three hours with two intermissions, and that technically isn’t considered very long for opera. And though it is performed in its native Italian, translations into other languages appear conveniently on a small screen in front of your seat. The light from the screen is clearly visible but not too bright as to be distracting to others. While my partner and I simply could not resist making a night at the opera a full evening of dressing to the nines in suit and tie and cocktail dress, there were still plenty of people in attendance in everyday street clothes. The general consensus for dress code at the Met Opera seems to be simply clean and comfortable. Additionally, tickets to Manon Lescaut start at a reasonable $32 USD.
As for Manon Lescaut, it is the opera that made Giacomo Puccini famous and tells the tale of a beautiful young woman, Manon Lescaut (Kristine Opolais, soprano) who immediately catches the eye of a student, Chevalier des Grieux (Marcelo Álvarez, tenor). Des Grieux falls deeply in love with Manon only to learn that Manon’s father has plans to send his daughter off to a convent. He then plots to prevent this from happening. Des Grieux soon learns that a kidnapping plot is being concocted by Manon’s brother and Geronte, a local tax collector. In desperation, des Grieux takes Manon and flees to Paris.
The first thing I fell in love with when the curtains were raised was the sheer momentous size and detail put into the set. Most of the sets used in the production feature a glorious staircase in the background showcasing just how high this set reached and giving the scene great eye-catching levels that made it something remarkable to behold. The one set that featured a prison on the lower level and the shipyard above it left me in awe. Assistant scenic designer Scott Laule along with Hertzer GmbH and the Metropolitan Opera Shops have done fine work here.
Opolais and Álvarez were breathtaking on stage. Their voices rich, vibrant and clear, each note delivered with such precision. These two are evidently masters of their craft. The chemistry between them was palpable and it was easy to relate to the anguish between the two at the end. Manon is portrayed as clearly a diva when she is seen in the second act entirely preoccupied with her own beauty which is a trait modern media has ingrained in us as something to not admire. But in the end, when Manon is torn down and broken, you pity and ache for her. On a lighter note, the third act involving the processing or prisoners, most of whom were prostitutes, is certainly a dark scene but the sass coming from the ladies portraying the prostitutes in the face of the prison guards was enough to make me laugh.
Although everyone says a trip to New York City is not complete without seeing at least one show on Broadway, the Metropolitan Opera is a wonderful institution that I feel should not be missed. Book early to ensure decent seats at a reasonable cost and with upcoming performances in the Met Opera’s 2016-2017 season that include classics such as Aida, La Bohème, Carmen, and Don Giovanni, you will certainly want to be in attendance.
By Samantha Wu