All Time Coloratura

Opera Atelier’s Marriage of Figaro – Review

Posted in Opera Atelier by cToronto on April 29, 2010

Photo: Bruce Zinger / Artists: Peggy Kriha Dye & Wallis Giunta. Courtesy of Opera Atelier.

I care a lot about The Marriage of Figaro. I used to get into very heated arguments with the other classical music person in my high school, who was obsessed with Prokofiev. Mozart is bland and predictable, he said, with too narrow an emotional range. This point of view baffled and vexed me, and when I marshaled my counter-arguments in defense of Mozart’s beauty, complexity, and unparallelled understanding of drama, Figaro was never far from my mind.

In my head there is an ideal Figaro performance, composed of all the best parts of all the various incarnations I’ve heard and seen, along with the (admittedly fuzzy) images in my head. I was looking forward to this production very much, and was worried that I’d be disappointed by even minor differences from my own personal Ideal Figaro. After seeing it, it’s safe to say that this production comes closer to my ideal than any other I’ve seen, by quite a wide margin – but of course that makes the shortfalls that much more maddening.

A reasonable person can evaluate a Figaro production by roughly three criteria: First, is it funny? Second, is it sexy? Third and most important, is it beautiful?

First, humour. I wasn’t entirely sold on the English translation, but there’s absolutely no question that using it makes the opera funnier. There’s nothing separating the audience from the jokes, the timing is never wrong, and hearing an actor deliver a joke is always much better than reading it on a surtitle. Usually Figaro’s comic scenes get an obligatory, anemic chuckle from an audience that’s expecting all the surprises; this time, the comic possibilities were exploited to the fullest and the evening was full of genuine laughs.

Another element where Opera Atelier consistently stands head and shoulders above other opera companies is in stage movement. Too often, a lumpen park-and-bark acting style makes even the freshest, most voluptuous operas seem flat and dowdy on stage. Here, every turn of the head and swing of the arm appeared to have been precisely choreographed to serve the drama. Back in January, a fascinating New York Times piece on dance in opera bemoaned how infrequently stage movement aligns with the music in operatic performance, explaining that “much of the best choreography helps us to hear the music better”. The stage movement in this production was deliciously responsive to the music, and aided the comedy considerably.

Second, sex. Truthfully, I look for this in just about every opera – Tosca, Don Giovanni, and Rosenkavailer are always a little disappointing without a generous amount of sexual tension. Opera Atelier’s promotional poster for Figaro featured a mostly-undressed, beautiful man lying supine on a bed. As expected, no problems here.

It’s in the third requirement – beauty – where I hit against those maddening slight shortcomings. My most serious complaint was with the tempi, which were consistently on the very brisk side, and sometimes felt overwhelming when combined with the frenetic action. Porgi, Amor particularly suffered from being hurried along, making the Countess seem at times more like a Real Housewife than a great lady in pain. In Acts III and IV, where the plot twists pile up quickly and relentlessly, I was longing for the moment of repose that Canzonetta sull’aria would have provided had it been given more room to breathe. Though the singing was consistently excellent – I particularly enjoyed Carla Huhtanen as Susanna and Wallis Giunta as Cherubino – the ensembles sometimes sounded a bit muddy.

I like my Countesses a little sadder and nobler than in this incarnation. I also wish that pathos had been chosen over comedy a bit more often – Figaro gives lots of opportunities to choose one or the other, and the ideal production maintains a balance of the two. However, seeing certain lines played for laughs, when I was accustomed to thinking of them as serious, expands my understanding of the opera rather than interfering with it.

These are, of course, minor complaints. This Figaro is full of interesting details and absolutely bursting with intelligence, wit, style, and vivid musicality. Even though the Figaro in my head would have lingered longer over the pauses, I suspect it will be a long time before I see anything that comes closer.

Alternative Opinions:

Eye Weekly: “OA’s new production will likely please any newcomer to this opera. Others, however, may wish Pynkoski had let the singers focus more on Mozart’s wit than on the clichés of farce.”

Toronto Star: “From the orchestra, to the singing, the staging and the costumes, here is a piece of musical theatre where nothing has been left to chance.”

The Globe and Mail: “This wonderful merging of text and music rests squarely with the talents of director Marshall Pynkoski and conductor David Fallis. The always meticulous Pynkoski has ensured that the opera is directed to within an inch of its life.”

NOW: “Opera Atelier’s not known for its subtle takes on baroque opera, but even by its standards, this new production of The Marriage Of Figaro is over-the-top broad. The only thing that’s missing is a whoopee cushion.”

Canoe – JAM!: “The Marriage of Figaro is not exactly a marriage made in heaven. But a Marriage of Figaro made by Opera Atelier can come pretty close — especially if your idea of heaven is fairly dripping with beautiful music, lavish sets and gorgeous costumes.”

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Other Opinions of Holländer

Posted in Non-Toronto Opera Companies by cToronto on April 27, 2010

Though Heather and I enjoyed Friday night’s performance of Der fliegende Holländer at the Met, the other critics (at least, the two I could find) were not terribly enamoured. Here are some other reviews:

The New York Times: “…except for the singing of Deborah Voigt, who brought steely power and lyrical elegance to her first Met Senta, the performance lacked intensity, focus and Wagnerian vocal splendor.”

Superconductor: “Mr. Uusitalo is a tall, handsome singer with a strong stage presence. However, Friday night’s performance was somewhat anemic.”

Heather and Cecily review Der fliegende Holländer!

Posted in Non-Toronto Opera Companies by cToronto on April 27, 2010

On Friday evening, ATC’s New York correspondent and I enjoyed opening night of the Met’s Der fliegende Holländer, starring Deborah Voigt. We’ve decided to review it jointly, as a back-and-forth dialogue between us. Neither of us had seen Hollander before, and we loved talking about it as a work as well as about this specific performance.

CECILY: One thing that struck me is how much Senta at the beginning of the opera acts like a modern-day Twilight fan. She’s obsessed with the Dutchman’s portrait, likes to hear his story over and over again, is kinda turned on by his supernatural dark broodiness, and has fantasies of “rescuing” him from his dark fate. She’s an interesting character, isn’t she? Chaste but quivering.

HEATHER:  She is interesting for sure. I love when she sings about the legend of the Dutchman to the chorus of woman. The song is so strongly voiced…but then she swoons at the end. She is a contradiction! And *sort* of chaste.  Though it is Wagner, there was a bit of humour in the suggestion of her sexual fascination with the Dutchman. Musically, he is far sexier than her suitor Erik. His arias are blandly traditional rather than the stormily Romantic music of the Dutchman.

CECILY: You can really hear foretastes of the Ring Cycle in the Dutchman’s music, although not the sexy parts. The Dutchman was clad a bit like a Byronic hero in this particular production.

HEATHER: The Dutchman was definitely Byronic. I’m glad the Dutchman looked more like Heathcliff than Dracula. He was pretty pale though. I thought the supernatural element was done well–present, but not excessive.  I like the scene with the chorus–who are trying to persuade the sailors to party with them–and the ghostly crew of the Flying Dutchman. There was quite the visual and musical contrast between the ordinary and the unworldly in this exchange.

CECILY: Yes, the dueling choruses were a highlight for me, and it was a very visually effective (though our view was obstructed a bit from standing room). Did you find that Senta’s death moment was fluffed a bit, visually? These days I’m starting to think that after over a century of leaping Toscas, we’d be interested in something a bit more interesting than just “the jump”.

HEATHER: Fluffed up how? I agree that leaping to one’s death seems derivative (so why bother emphasizing it on stage). Tosca will always do it better! (i.e. in Italian). In some way I didn’t quite expect Senta to do it though. She’s totally obsessed with the Dutchman, but I think a tiny possibility was presented that she would choose the more staid Erik. His songs were nice.

CECILY: Mostly I was just wondering if there’s a better way to execute the final jump than the Climb To Precipice/Make Emotional Appeal/Carefully Jump Behind Set drill – something a bit more unexpected. And it’s interesting that Senta is sort of stringing Erik along – trying hard to placate him and not quite admitting, in her first scene, that she’d leave him for the Dutchman.

HEATHER: You’re right. It was kind of a boring way to do it. Not my favourite demise of a heroine either. Nothing will ever beat Adriana Lecouvreur’s death; she keeled over after sniffing poisoned violets. I think you’re right about Senta’s treatment of Erik. She is a bit conflicted there. She’s pretty set on the Dutchman though (and from first glance) What did you think of that first scene between the Dutchman and Senta?

CECILY: I like the tension in that scene – the long, long interval where no words are exchanged. Not a lot of composers would have had the guts to attempt something like that. And in this production, the lack of motion carried on for an almost agonizingly long length of time. I’d be interested to see if, in other productions, Senta and the Dutchman ever move toward each other or touch, or if they usually take the “stillness” approach.

HEATHER: A brave move indeed. Silence can be profound or awkward. I didn’t hear any giggles though. It was an arresting moment. Their lack of contact (and extended silence) seemed to suggest containment–they are each still profoundly wrapped up in the idea rather than the reality of their beloved. It is the opposite of the Erik/Senta dynamic, which is much more familiar. I generally prefer higher male voices, but I was really taken with Juha Uusital. I’ve rarely enjoyed a bass-baritone so much.

CECILY: Yes, both Uusital and Voigt were marvelous. There’s an interesting brightness in Voigt’s voice that I like – it allows her to be both powerful and girlish when the music requires it. All in all, an excellent first experience with the Dutchman – I’m looking forward to comparing this one to the COC’s version coming up this May!

Guest Review: New York City Opera – Partenope

Posted in Non-Toronto Opera Companies by cToronto on April 23, 2010

[Cecily’s note: this review comes courtesy of my lovely friend, Heather, who is spending the spring in NYC. With this and the possible Dutchman tomorrow, we here at ATC are engaging in a bit of blog tourism before the Toronto opera scene kicks into gear next week with Figaro]

In the first act of Partenope, the heroine of Handel’s three-act comedy is surrounded by eager suitors, who are seated as she sings and struts in pink heels around them. Dressed in a rose coloured sixties-style dress suit, the princess, like Joan from Mad Men, is playfully conscious of her appeal to the opposite sex. Sieden breezes through this difficult aria, this experienced soprano confidently hitting the astonishingly high notes in this and subsequent scenes. As the title character of this comedy set in Naples, she has a lot of singing to do. Vocally, she is plainly up to the task. Her exertions are supported by an orchestra (under the capable baton of Christian Curnyn) that sounds equally at home with this lively, perhaps a little lengthy, slice of the Baroque.

By turns, Partenope’s suitors sing about their feelings for the princess, who favours Prince Arsace for much of the opera, though she ends up with the more boyish Armido. Both heroes are countertenors (the first 1730 London production would have featured a castrato, however); the trio of suitors is rounded out by a tenor, the warlike Emilio, who desires both Partenope’s heart and land. Armido’s first aria, sweetly expressing his unrequited love for Partenope is exquisite, promising much for later solos. But the honeyed countertenor never quite reaches the same heights of beauty in later acts. Moreover, the youthful Anthony Roth Costanzo lacks the stage presence his rival (and superior) countertenor, who shines in scenes with his ex-lover, Rosemira, who disguises herself as a man after her fiancé abandons her for royalty. Tall and athletic, Stephanie Houtzeel, a solid mezzo-soprano, is hands-down the best actor in the opera. Consequently, I felt real investment in her trials as a scorned lover and incipient matchmaker (between Partenope and Armindo).

The costumes, colourful and basically modern, are neither distracting nor particularly striking. (Some part of me always hopes, however, that the characters will don the ridiculously elaborate wigs, face patches, and waistcoats of Handel’s day.) The set too is pleasant, neither lavish nor skimpy, lending a casually eighteenth-century feel to the work. Most memorably, a starry sky of lights is the backdrop to one lover’s evening song of yearning. Fire is also used to great effect, a model of the city of Naples opening to reveal an inner flame. An interesting visual motif—an orb nestled in a cube—is repeated with variation throughout the opera. Seen several times in the hands of the princess’ (unfortunately rather dull) tutor, Ormonte, this symbol reinforces the central theme of the cultivation of reason.

The director, Francisco Negrin, has several obstacles to overcome in order to make this dramatically and musically exciting to a modern audience not used to being so drenched in coloratura. Honestly, it is sometimes hard work to enjoy all of the florid arias and silly plot twists. During one of the two intermissions I overheard a lady in the restroom remarking, with a smile, on the “corny” storyline. Hence, I will refrain further summarizing the nuances of the plot, with its duels, cross-dressing, overheard conversations, etc. The story, like that of many other operas from Handel and company, is a collection of narrative stereotypes—albeit one with very likable characters. Silvio Stampiglia’s libretto, with its musty clichés, does not dull a work that overall sparkles musically. Minor quibbles with the revival production aside, I was delighted to experience such a high-quality performance of a relatively little-performed eighteenth-century opera, especially one that displays so prominently the voices of two countertenors!

Sadly, it’s over now, so you can’t enjoy it as I did. Burn.

NYC Opera Vacation – Deborah’s Dutchman

Posted in Uncategorized by cToronto on April 22, 2010

If all goes well, tomorrow night I’ll be attending the opening of the Metropolitan Opera’s Der Fliegende Holländer, in New York, starring the renowned Deborah Voigt as Senta. This is a bit of a consolation prize for my aborted trip to Berlin. A million things could go wrong between now and then (including most likely not being able to get tickets) but I’m keeping my fingers crossed. It will be interesting to compare this production to the COC’s upcoming take, which I have only heard described as “weird”.

Opera 101: The Pie-Eating Contest

Posted in COC by cToronto on April 14, 2010

I just returned from the COC’s free Opera 101 event (for Der fliegende Holländer) at the Drake Hotel. There was a very interesting discussion on “interpretive/modern” productions of operas, whether opera is relevant in today’s world or whether it is a museum piece, and how to manage the unpleasant associations that are unfortunately part of Wagner’s legacy. Christopher Alden, the director of the upcoming Holländer, explained how in this (admittedly 14 year old) production he conceived of Senta as someone who, while part of the dominant social order, is obsessed with the plight of the other, the outsider, the oppressed. This seems to me to be a more interesting take than seeing her as someone wishing to be carried away by a sexy fairy-tale pirate, and I’m looking forward to seeing how this is expressed on stage. I’m also pretty sure I agree with Alden when he says that opera, while relevant, is an art form of the past (and I think that the sooner we admit this, the better).

He also related an anecdote about a production of Aida he directed in Berlin, roundly booed by the audience, wherein the triumphal procession was replaced by a pie-eating contest. It was part of his conception of Aida as being about religious fundamentalism; conductor Johannes Debus (also the COC’s music director) suggested that perhaps it would have gone over better with the Germans if it had featured curry sausages instead of pie.

I’m also quite delighted that Alden directed the audience to a youtube video of the production’s Dutchman, an extensively tattooed former Navy man named Evgeny Nikitin (Video here – embedding is disabled on this one). Be warned that it’s all in Russian. Even if you’re not Russian, the audio and visuals are worth it.

Opera Singers on Twitter

Posted in Opera on the Internet by cToronto on April 12, 2010

I just found Renee Fleming’s Twitter account. Can anyone think of other opera celebs (or, normal people who have interesting things to say about opera) I should be following?

(My twitter username is cecilybrenda. One day I might create a separate account for alltimecoloratura, but right now my recent posts are all about finally winning ADOM).

Can Opera Ever Really Be “Accessible”?

Posted in Thoughts on Opera by cToronto on April 8, 2010

Back when I was an avid reader of rec.music.opera in the late 1990’s, there was a discussion about why modern opera composers write in such opaque musical styles rather than the sweet, soaring, melodic style of the most popular opera composers. “Where is the new Puccini?” someone wondered.

“The new Puccini has been around for a while,” went my favourite response. “His initials are ALW.”

I was reminded of this exchange (the initials, of course, stand for Andrew Lloyd Webber) when reading Opera Rat’s discussion of the state of opera criticism.

Opera is operating right now in a vortex of inaccessibility. Classic operas are performed so often that the conversation about them is dominated by subtleties. Newer operas are dominated by music appreciated mostly by experts. And opera in general is all but neglected except in the specialty press.

I think this is all unquestionably true. The standard repertoire gets boring fast if you attend the opera with any regularity, and the newer works will sound strange to ears that haven’t been to music school and attended Modern Music 101.

So, can opera ever be popular again the way it was in previous centuries? Are new operas with tonal, hummable music the way to bring in fresh blood?

The truth is, it’s already been done, and the people who are doing it (Webber et al) have adapted the operatic form into something else that sells a lot better. And that’s because opera, in its traditional form, is Kind of Weird, and really wedded to a particular time and culture – and that’s actually part of its idiosyncratic appeal.

Let me explain.

What makes Phantom of the Opera, say, different from La Traviata? The snarky among you would be inclined to say, “Verdi wasn’t a hack”, but that’s dodging the question. Webber’s late 80’s magnum opus features a lot of the characteristics we associate with opera – stage drama set to music, mostly through-composed, arias for each character meant to show off the singers’ voices, ensemble numbers, high-drama plot with murder, etc. It even, as I recall, features pastiches of a Verdi chorus and an 18th century bedroom farce. So what’s different?

Mostly it’s the style of singing. The singers are trained for Broadway or opera-lite (a la Brightman and Bocelli) rather than opera houses. They use microphones. The vibrato isn’t too heavy, and the overall sound is more palatable to people used to pop vocals. Frankly, most people find operatic voices something of an acquired taste (except, perhaps, when they sing a few ethereal high notes on a movie soundtrack).

Contemporary stage dramas set to pretty, hummable music? We’ve got Webber and the Les Miserables collaborators at the low end, and better quality stuff like Sondheim at the high end. Most of it is very accessible, and people who will never see the inside of an opera house happily fork over truckloads of money for it.

And that’s okay. I’m happy to consider Steven Sondheim as Strauss’ (or Massenet’s, or whomever’s) heir. Sweeney Todd is amazing.

The parts of opera that haven’t been passed down to contemporary romantic musicals are mostly the parts that would seem weird and awkward if they were to appear in a contemporary work.

And thus, I give you Weird Things About Opera:

1. Recitative. If understanding the words is so important, why not just speak them? And what’s with the harpsichord?

2. Foreign languages AND translations from same. If it’s in a foreign language, it’s in a foreign language, and that’s a barrier to accessibility in itself. Translations often seem awkward – the wrong syllables are emphasized, the wrong words are emphasized, and the dirty secret is that hearing the words sung in an unfamiliar language often has the happy effect of obscuring their ridiculousness. Plus, even if you have a brilliant translation, chances are you won’t be able to make out the words anyway when they’re sung. I’ve seen works performed in English that required supertitles.

3. Some people are really disconcerted by seeing a conventionally unattractive singer playing a romantic lead. I find this unfortunate, but that’s beside the point. People who don’t like opera love to joke about “the fat lady” and her presumably screeching voice. Older singers, heavier singers, singers who are a different age or race from the character they are playing – all a part of the operatic tradition as we know it, and all potentially alienating to neophytes no matter how transcendent their voices. Despite this effect, I think this is one of “the good parts” of opera – for what other performers, especially today, can we truly say that talent trumps appearance?

4. The voices. Classical voices are now only heard in the classical music world. Since the introduction of the microphone, that allowed quieter voices to fill big halls, average listeners have preferred their voices softer, breathier, less trained, closer to speech and smaller in range. And this only seems to be getting more and more true – pop voices seem to have gotten breathier and less substantial over time. Operatic voices, to an ear that isn’t used to them, can seem shrill, pushy, and unnatural in contrast. Plus it’s sometimes hard to make out the words. Many people overcome this barrier, and once you overcome it, you’re in for a thrilling experience. But pretending it doesn’t exist is silly.

So, we have a perfectly good modern form popular opera a la Puccini that has none of these problems – the sophisticated musical. Of course new operas should be written, but I’m most interested in them when they’re offering a real alternative to Sondheim et al. I’d rather our crazy modern opera composers kept doing what they’re doing. The world is full of sweet music and it’s easy to find – it’s tougher to find something that challenges me a little, and if that means we sacrifice some accessibility, so be it. The opera I’m most looking forward to seeing next year is Nixon in China. Writing opera in the old style is a bit like writing a new French cabaret chanson – sure, it’s pretty, but is it really giving me anything I can’t get from Piaf and Trenet? Do we need more music for people to lindy hop to?

Where I agree with Opera Rat is in the way the standard repertoire is discussed – mostly concerned with subtle differences between one particular performance and the hundreds of others the reviewer may have seen or listened to. I’d rather talk about what makes an opera interesting or moving – what gives it dramatic and musical force – than analyze the nuances of Gheorghiu’s performance vs. Netrebko’s.

And, part of what makes opera fun is that it’s so different. The emotions are big and florid, costumes are cut for maximum cleavage, it’s a glimpse of a different time and place and it opens up your musical and aesthetic understanding when your ears have been stunted by too much Lady Gaga (or, hell, too much Wolf Parade). The strangeness is what makes it good – otherwise we’d all just listen to Voi che Sapete and Nessun Dorma and dispense with all the troublesome theatrics. The people I know who are interested in opera are interested in it because it’s a little bit strange. If people who might be interested are alienated by snobbery and aggressive fact-hoarding by buffs, that’s bad; but many people won’t be interested at all, and that’s okay. Opera today is a niche interest rather than a mainstream one – alongside other cool things like typography, Werner Herzog movies, and conceptual art. I’d rather have a vibrant, quirky, niche (where people take artistic risks) than bland accessibility.

EDIT: I realized this post makes it sound like I don’t like opera! I assure you, the opposite is the case. I’ve made minor edits to tone down the language.

Page Turning Excitement

Posted in Opera Atelier, Thoughts on Opera by cToronto on April 8, 2010

First: new (to me) and interesting opera blogs!

opera-toonity – lighthearted opera blog by Gale, who is writing an opera-themed comic novel

Opera Rat – opera discussion from the perspective of a non-insider

Second, all about me:

I spent Tuesday evening volunteering for Opera Atelier’s Versailles Gala, where I administered a rum tasting (rum is interestingly gendered; none of the women were the least bit interested, but the men were very enthused) and turned pages for the pianist accompanying the Figaro cast.

Page turning is fun in the right circumstances, but very stressful in others. If the pages are clearly printed, the book doesn’t want to flop over, and the pianist gives clear nods, it’s a fun way to be part of a musical event without actually producing any music. Otherwise, you wind up with the fear that you will ruin the performance by turning too early, turning too late, or accidentally knocking the book on the floor. This time, everything went beautifully, the singers looked and sounded gorgeous, and there were no disasters. After hearing the talent, I am looking forward to The Marriage of Figaro even more than before.

The Many Sins of des Grieux and Manon Lescaut

Posted in Thoughts on Opera by cToronto on April 5, 2010

The awesome cover art for my paperback copy of Manon Lescaut

If you’re like me, and encountered the story of Manon Lescaut solely through the operatic adaptations of Puccini and Massenet, you might think of the character of Manon as a naive, slightly bird-brained, affluence-loving faun, and des Grieux as a kind, guileless man utterly undone by love. Perhaps you might have also been a little confused at the vast plot differences between the two operas. I recently snapped up a paperback copy of the novel, Manon Lescaut by Abbe Prevost, from the half-price sale at Balfour Books, and was surprised and entertained to find Manon and des Grieux to be a lovable but utterly irredeemable pair of reprobates. des Grieux becomes a professional card sharp, flits in and out of prison (along with Manon), repeatedly hits up his friends for money, as well as promise large sums for favours from various random people, promises on which he’s unable to deliver. Manon, for her part, spends a considerable amount of time trying to extract money from her rich admirers; sometimes sleeping with them and sometimes not. des Grieux feels no remorse about murdering a porter while breaking out of prison, but sticks resolutely by Manon even after she’s been unfaithful to him repeatedly.

In short, the book’s great fun. I recommend it.

Here are a few choice passages (from Donald M. Frame’s 1961 translation):

After they first run away together:

Passionate as I was for Manon, she succeeded in persuading me that she was no less so for me. We were so unreserved in our caresses that we did not have the patience to wait until we were alone. Our postilions and hosts looked at us with wonder; and I noticed that they were surprised to see two children of our age who seemed madly in love with each other. Our plans for marriage were forgotten at Saint-Denis; we defrauded the church of its rights; and we found ourselves man and wife without giving the matter a thought.

Her first temptation by a rich lover, to which she yields:

She told me that having seen her at her window he had become impassioned for her; he had made his declaration like a true farmer-general, that is to say by notifying her in a letter that the payment would be proportionate to the favours; she had yielded at first, but with no other purpose than to extract from him a considerable sum that could serve to let us live comfortably; he had dazzled her by such magnificent promises that she had let her resolution be shaken by degrees; I should judge her remorse, however, by the grief she had manifested on the eve of our separation.

des Grieux learns how to cheat at cards:

In a short time I profited from my master’s lessons. I acquired an especially great facility in turning cards over and in recognizing them by their backs; and with the very great help of a long pair of sleeves, I could conjure a card away deftly enough to deceive the eyes of the sharpest and quite naturally to ruin many honest gamblers. This extraordinary skill so hastened the progress of my fortune that in a few weeks I owned considerable sums, besides those that I shared in good faith with my associates.

Manon writes to des Grieux about her second rich tempter, and sends a pretty girl whom she hopes will serve as a substitute:

This is about what she told me: G… M… had received her with a politeness and a magnificence beyond her wildest dreams. He had loaded her with presents. He made her glimpse the life of a queen. She assured me nevertheless that she was not forgetting me in this new splendour … to console me a bit for the pain she foresaw the news might cause me, she had managed to procure me one of the prettiest girls in Paris, who would be the bearer of her note.

Prevost’s Manon and des Grieux never stop swearing eternal love to one another despite their various crimes and infidelities, but the overall picture is rather different from Puccini’s: