Abbe Prevost's tragic 1731 novel about a young woman torn between the love she discovers with a poor student and the seductive pleasures of wealth inspired three operas. Puccini's Manon Lescaut, his first big hit, is the most passionate. The first act is a little slow moving--this isn't La Boheme, Madame Butterfly, or Tosca, though there are hints of them--and the two leading roles are very demanding, probably the main reason it hasn't been performed here for 28 years. In the Lyric's brand-new production the student, Des Grieux, is sung by the remarkable Russian tenor Vladimir Galouzine, who has an absolutely gorgeous, deep, resonant voice, and Manon by Finnish superstar Karita Mattila. She was amazing in last year's Fidelio, and here, where she has even more to do as an actress and singer, she's mesmerizing, using her body language to suggest the young Manon's innocence and keeping her voice smaller than in the central act, where she's a mature and confident woman. Her voice is always silken, even in her highest and loudest moments, and her control is striking. The reunion between Manon and Des Grieux is as intense and beautiful as anything Puccini ever wrote--it's one of opera's great moments. The rest of the cast is also excellent, as are the sumptuous period costumes and sets. I only wish the orchestra had played a little more softly so that I could have heard every sung note. Bruno Bartoletti conducts. See also Wednesday. Sun 11/27, 2 PM, Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker, 312-332-2244, $41-$175.