This was an opera I didn't really know. I was attracted to this version because of its price (no libretto is included, but this is easily accessible online) and, especially, by its all-star cast.
The recording was made in 1993, when the two leads were, in theory at any rate, a little long in the tooth to be essaying the roles of Manon and Des Grieux. As it happens, Mirella Freni sings wonderfully in the title role; a little past her vocal prime perhaps, but singing with great beauty and emotional depth. Pavarotti appeared indestructible back then and his voice retains its youthful allure; quite frankly, he was a vocal marvel and is on top form here.
The supporting cast is incredibly strong too. Dwayne Croft is a resonant, if nit especially imaginative, odious Geronte, spitting out his words with obvious relish. Even the smaller parts are allocated to "name" singers, some then at the start of their careers. Ramón Vargas' voice contrasts nicely with Pavarotti's, while another of today's leading tenors, Paul Groves, provides a sweetly sung lamplighter. The madrigal features some distinguished voices too and is led by the young Cecilia Bartoli, who sings quite beautifully, exhibiting none of the excesses or mannerisms which marred her later recordings.
James Levine is not my favourite conductor, but he is never less than competent in any of his many recordings and does a decent job here. The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra plays well too and the sound recording is faultless.
I'm not a Puccini expert and there may be better versions out there, but I cannot fault this one and at this price, it is an absolute bargain.