The Royal Ballet opens its 2019-2020 season with one of the Company’s showpiece works – Kenneth MacMillan’s gorgeous ballet Manon – the passionate and ultimately tragic story of a young girl who was as much in love with romance as with the trappings of wealth.
Everything about this production is sheer enchantment – the brilliant choreography of Kenneth MacMillan, the stylish and elegant design by Nicholas Georgiadis, and the beautiful score by Jules Massenet.
The story of Manon is based on the 1731 novel L’Histoire du Chevalier des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut by the Abbé Prévost. Set in 18th century Paris, it reflects a time when decadence, corruption and depravity were rife in the city.
Manon, a beautiful but desperately poor young girl, is adored by the student Des Grieux. Having eloped with him to Paris, their love is confirmed in what must surely be one of the most exquisite pas de deux in the repertoire – one is reminded of MacMillan’s equally beautiful pas de deux from Romeo and Juliet. Manon and Des Grieux’s idyll is interrupted by the intrusion of Manon’s brother, Lescaut, and Monsieur GM, a wealthy older man to whom Lescaut has sold her. Attracted by the lure of the luxury on offer, Manon deserts Des Grieux.
Manon and Des Grieux meet up again at a night of revelry in the establishment of a local Madame, and they escape together after he’s caught cheating at cards. Manon is later arrested for prostitution, and – followed by Des Grieux – finds herself being deported to the penal colony of New Orleans. She escapes from gaol and the two lovers flee to the swamps of Louisiana, where Manon collapses in Des Grieux’s arms and dies.
Kenneth MacMillan was the first British choreographer to be produced entirely by the then Sadler’s Wells Ballet – now Royal Ballet – where he trained as a dancer from the age of 15. He enjoyed a very successful career as a dancer, but stopped dancing at the age of 23, mainly because of the terrible stage-fright which he experienced. He was responsible for the creation of a vast repertoire of works for The Royal Ballet, which included his best known three-act ballets, Romeo and Juliet, Manon and Mayerling.
Manon, the second of these ballets, was written in 1974, during MacMillan’s seven-year tenure as Artistic Director for The Royal Ballet. Following scathing criticism of the subject of his previous work, Anastasia, he opted for a less controversial story, and one which had already been used for an opera by both Massenet and Puccini.
Jules Massenet was regarded as the leading French operatic composer of his day – he lived from 1842 to 1912. His music is lyrical, melodic and appealing, displaying his particular gift for portraying the intimacies of human relations. It was in the early 1870s that Massenet started writing operas, his first success being Le Roi de Lahore at the Paris Opéra in 1877. The following year he was invited to become a professor at the Paris Conservatoire. The opera Manon – considered by many to be his masterpiece – was written in 1884, and an orchestral arrangement of the music from this opera forms the score for the ballet.
The Royal Ballet presents Kenneth MacMillan’s Manon at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, from 2nd October to 6th November. For more information and tickets, visit The Royal Opera House website.
Information sourced from:
Royal Opera House programme notes