“Puccini looks to me more like the heir of Verdi than any of his rivals.” George Bernard Shaw.
Oh my….I am three days late but on February 1st, was the Anniversary of two of the most emblematic operas of Giacomo Puccini, Manon Lescaut (Feb 1st, 1893), which became his first success and made him the composer that he is and the beloved “La Boheme” (Feb 1st, 1896), it is curious that these two famous operas by Puccini premiered in the same day but in different years. (Just like Verdi’s Rigoletto and Don Carlos which premiered in the same day, “March 11” but in different years)
I find ironic that these two Operas by Puccini share the same “Birthday anniversary” because, I find both operas, specially in the characters so contrasting. The music, in both operas is glorious and even though that I find the story and characters from both Operas very contrastating.. there are similarities in a few things.
In both, the leading lady has a self name aria/moment…. in Manon Lescaut… “Manon Lescaut mi chiamo”…. in “La Boheme”… “Sì, mi chiamano Mimì”… (also the names of the leading ladies starts with a “M” ) in both operas, the leading man also ends up screaming the names of the leading ladies (when both Manon and Mimi die at the end) and also both Operas have a “Sister Opera or Opera competition”…. Massenet’s “Manon” to “Manon Lescaut” and Leoncavallo’s “La Boheme” to Puccini’s “La Boheme”. (Leoncavallo and Puccini, as we know, were in dispute for the composition for La Boheme, both of them finished their own version but as we know.. Leoncavallo’s version was not successful)
Manon Lescaut became the first major success for Puccini (after his first Operas, The Fairies and Edgar) based on the famous novel by the Abbé Prévost, Puccini’s version of Manon Lescaut has more beautiful music (like the beautiful intermezzo, which, along with Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci, is one of the most beautiful intermezzos ever) than Massenet’s version BUT in the aspects of the libretto, I prefer Massenet’s version.
(also the famous novel by the Abbé Prévost has more details than the Opera version of Puccini)
But back again with the contrast of both Manon Lescaut and La Boheme… if someone asks me which of both Operas I would take to a dessert Island… I would definitely take “La Boheme”.
And here is why because of the huge contrast of the characters of “Manon Lescaut” and “La Boheme”.
I can not feel any sympathy at all for any character of “Manon Lescaut” (But I can not deny the great musical drama in it) and for the contrary… in “La Boheme” I feel sympathy and identified with all characters (hehehe, even Musetta is more likeable than Manon )
In La Boheme, like our dear Luciano Pavarotti once said in an interview.. you feel close to the characters… the story, is full of humanity… the characters and the story and beautiful friendship of the “Bohemian Characters”….. Rodolfo, Marcello, Mimi, Musetta, Colline and Schaunard are more close to us….. we all want to celebrate Christmas like our dear Bohemian characters, we, sometimes, as adults, play like children like what our Bohemian characters do at the beginning of Act IV (Fandango! ) …..yes, we know that the ending of La Boheme is sad but… Mimi dies with love, Mimi dies in company of Rodolfo and his friends… all of them decided to do a personal sacrifice to try to save Mimi’s life…. Rodolfo gives to Mimi a pink bonnet , Musetta gives to Mimi a muff , Colline is going to pawn his overcoat (His beloved aria… Vecchia Zimarra is my personal favorite aria from La Boheme, because like Will Berger said… it is like a prayer… Colline is the philosopher of the Bohemian friends and his “Vecchia Zimarra” in just in two minutes or less.. speaks so much and it touches your heart deeply)
All Bohemian friends are together, no matter if they are poor but.. they are always together with love. That is why I love “La Boheme”. In the contrast, I can not feel any sympathy at all for any character of “Manon Lescaut” (Lescaut takes the prize of “Brother of the year”, Lol! )
So that is why I find so ironic that both Manon Lescaut and La Boheme share the same…. “Birthday”.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the music of “Manon Lescaut” very much but La Boheme, both musically and dramatically is more… “human” and it is a lesson for all of us, a lesson of love and humanity, of six persons who can give love, no matter in what kind of difficulties. And I think that, now that today was “Friendship Day”… I do think that it was perfect to mention the beautiful friendship of the Bohemian characters in La Boheme
Happy Belated Birthday…. Manon Lescaut and La Boheme!
My favorite personal aria from La Boheme…. Vecchia Zimarra with the great Nicolai Ghiaurov:
The beautiful Intermezzo from Manon Lescaut, conducted by Maestro James Levine.