Geraldine Farrar, Renée Fleming, Bidu Sayao & The Met Opera’s Most Essential ‘Manon’ Interpreters

By David Salazar

The Metropolitan Opera is set to open “Manon” on Sept. 24, 2019. The work has been featured over 270 times in its history and remains a major staple of the standard repertory

The main draw in the opera is the title role, one of the most challenging in all of opera, requiring not only a vocal master, but a strong actress. The Met’s history is filled with a number of big names in the role, including the likes of Nellie Melba, Anna Moffo, Dorothy Kirsten, Bidu Sayao, and Geraldine Farrar, among others.

Here is a look at some of the opera’s major proponents at the Met and their respective significance.

The Opener

The first interpreter of the Massenet opera at the Met was Sibyl Sanderson, who made her house debut on Jan. 16, 1895 in the opera. She would go on to perform it over the course of 15 shows, including nine straight performances in 1895 and another few in 1901: all of the 1901 performances were on tour.

Short & Sweet

It should be noted that Nellie Melba appeared in the role three times in her Met career, while Dorothy Kirsten, who dominated the role of “Manon Lescaut,” also took on just two performances of the Massenet opera as well. Victoria de los Angeles also got four performances of her own at the Met.

The Record Holder

Geraldine Farrar was a dominant force in the early 20th century and many of her major roles were her exclusive domain. Manon was such a role between 1909 and 1921 when she appeared in 40 of 50 performances in that stretch.

And yet, she still fell short of Lucrezia Bori, who appeared in the role 44 times in her career. She first sang it in 1921 and would sing her final Met “Manon” in 1936; Bori was also a famed exponent of the Puccini opera “Manon Lescaut.”

For context, third on the list is Bidu Sayao, who performed the role 22 times in her career.

The Big Revival

In 1965, “Manon” got the last performance it would see in over two decades. It was the biggest hiatus the work has experienced, to date, in the company’s history. In that span, the Puccini opera based on the same work got close to 100 performances, establishing itself, at that time, as the favored version.

Then Catherine Malfitano came along and performed the work in 1987. She would get a total of 16 performances across two seasons. It would be another 10 years before the work would be taken up again.

Into the 21st Century

In 1997, “Manon” would make a return with Renée Fleming taking on a run of eight performances. She would sing another seven shows of the work in 2005.

Since then, no soprano has managed to get to 10 performances of the opera. Ruth Ann Swenson came in at seven, Anna Netrebko debuted a new production with nine, and Diana Damrau got six showcases in the role. Now it will be Lisette Oropesa stepping into the famed part and she will get seven performances overall.