All bathed, all drowned in a golden light. Like Carle Van Loo’s 1737 painting, Halt in the Hunt, our stage palette is set. Rusty browns and sandy ochres give way to earthy greens. This is nature, human nature, with all its lust for power and pleasure, its poverty and its rat-catchers, harlots, and spinsters jostling side-by-side. Our eye, like in that of the painting, is drawn to those of import in blue (des Grieux, our romantic, besotted and well-intentioned student-cum-hero) and red (Monsieur GM, “an old voluptuary, who paid prodigally for his pleasures”[note]Abbé Prévost, History of Manon Lescaut and of the Chevalier des Grieux, illus. by Maurice Leloir (Boston: L.C. Page, 1906), 56[/note]); colour has long been used to tell a story, and what a story “Manon” is. Our eye races through the painted stage scene, seeking to read all as it unfolds: a wagon of “fallen women,” a mistress’s fate, a beggar chief, an opportunistic pickpocket. We might be on the outskirts of Paris, in a courtyard, a microcosm of society, but this shouldering of the wealthy and the affluent alongside the poor and wretched rabble could easily be a scene come to life from Gian Domenico Tiepolo’s Carnival Scene (or The Minuet), the pendant to The Tooth Puller (1754). If you wanted to know your fate, you’ve only to cast an eye about the scene: up with wealth and furs; down, deep down, grief and despair. And this, this is only the beginning. Keep up, look lively.
Lucinda Dunn and Adam Bull in Kenneth MacMillan's “Manon.”