The Critical Edition of Manon Lescaut (the first of any Puccini opera) allows performers for the first time to choose freely between the versions of the opera that have survived in various sources, and also to base their performances on a musical text that is has been thorough revised, and without the numerous editorial interventions (especially bowing marks and additional slurring) that were added to the traditional performing materials long after the composer’s death.
Puccini made a bewildering number of changes to Manon during a period of around thirty years, from its first performance in 1893 until a run at La Scala (conducted by Toscanini) in 1923. However, there are three basic versions of the score that can be realized.
An 1893 version
This version constitutes the most surprising new perspective on such a well known opera. It reconstructs the opera more-or-less as it emerged from the first round of performances in Turin in 1893. This would include (as well as other, smaller variations):
--The original Act I finale (the last ten minutes of Act I). It’s completely different from the final version, with a screamingly climactic reprise of “Donna non vidi mai” (for all soloists except the departed Manon and Des Grieux, and for chorus) and displaying a Wagner-influenced orchestration rarely heard in later Puccini.
--The first version of Manon’s Act IV aria. This has quite a bit of additional music (about 25 bars), and nothing of the final version is lost.
--12 extra bars from the love duet in Act IV; these bars were in fact part of the score until nearly the end of Puccini’s lifetime.
A “mid career” version
This version would reconstruct the opera as it was imagined by Puccini between around 1906 to around 1916; the major difference here is that the composer sanctioned the almost complete omission of Manon’s Act IV aria.
A final version
This is the final version that Puccini lived to approve, with Manon’s aria restored, in part with a revised text.
R.P. April 2009