Manon: You Can’t Beat a Good Moral

You know Romeo and Juliet?  Greatest love story ever told, and all that?  Well, Antoine Francois Prevost, the writer of the tale of Manon, must have been bound and determined to upstage the famous tragedy. ‘Tragedy?  Pah!  I’ll give them tragedy!’ And thus came into being the heart-wrenchingly devastating story of Manon, a young and innocent girl who elopes with the student with whom she has fallen in love, rather than being pimped out by her brother to an old man.

But this act of love is where the happiness ends – we don’t even make it to the end of the first act before things go pear-shaped. Another has his eagle eye on Manon; and he’s absolutely loaded. In the end, the silly little girl gets tempted away from her lover with a fur coat and some jewellery, and goes off to live the life of a high-class prostitute.

Her student-love is understandably devastated, and gets her bro to take him to her, whereupon he begs her to pack in her life as a mistress and return to him. She just can’t bear the thought of life without her bling, so she convinces her love to cheat at a game of cards with her sugar-daddy and win his fortune. This backfires spectacularly when he is caught; the police turn up but Manon and her love manage to escape.

They are about to flee Paris, and probably would have got away with it, when Manon’s greed yet again ruins everything.  They waste precious time arguing over whether to take the jewels with them, and Manon’s jealous older man shows up with guards and has her arrested.

Oh, it gets even worse. She is deported to New Orleans for prostitution and her lover follows her, hoping to support her. By the time she gets there she is on the brink of collapse, but the gaoler takes a fancy to her and tries to force himself upon her. Well, lover-boy is having none of that; he breaks in and kills the prospective rapist, and once more they flee. They don’t get far; the swamps of Louisiana prove fatal to Manon who becomes ill and delirious, suffering flashbacks of her follies. And, with an air of finality and ‘Ha!  Top that, if you can!’ from the writer, she dies in her devoted lover’s arms.

Phew! I can tell you, I was crying on and off from the scene where she fell in love with her boyo. Manon has been a book, an opera four times over and a ballet, and the story is incredibly powerful. You can’t beat a good moral. But as a ballet recently at London’s Coliseum the true innocence of Manon was portrayed beautifully. Elena Glurdjidze’s leading performance was utterly flawless and, though you should really dislike the character for being such a heartless muppet, her depiction of the character was just too poignant for that, and, God help you, you end up sympathising with her. Plus the English National Ballet is always worth seeing, but Manon is almost constantly being performed by one company or another, and if you get a chance to attend you should absolutely grab it.  Just make sure you take some tissues.

Kenneth MacMillan’s Manon, performed by The Royal Ballet, will be shown on February 9 at 2pm as part of the Vue cinema’s season of classical performances to be screened nationwide.

It will be showing at the following participating London Vue cinemas:

Fulham Broadway
Finchley Road

Tickets for all the performances can be purchased at www.myvue.com/opera or by calling 08712 240 240 or directly from participating cinemas.

You may also like

Baila Brazil at Southbank Centre
New Movement Collective: ‘Please Be Seated’
Henri Matisse: The Cut Outs
‘A Simple Space’ at Udderbelly Festival

Reader Comments