Music by Jules Massenet
Libretto by Henri Meilhac and Philippe Gille after Prévost’s novel
First performed: 1884
(n/a) The courtyard of an inn at Amiens Guillot de Morfontaine and his friend De Brétigny are waiting to dine with three girls, Poussette, Javotte and Rosette. The townspeople come to greet the coach from Arras, as does Lescaut, who has come to meet his young cousin, Manon, and escort her to a convent. When Lescaut goes off in search of her luggage, Guillot appears and is captivated by Manon’s beauty: he places his coach at her disposal, should she care to join him later. Lescaut returns and reproaches Manon, before leaving to gamble at cards with his friends. Alone, Manon reflects on her situation. The Chevalier des Grieux arrives at the inn to take a coach that will reunite him with his father. He falls in love with Manon at first sight; she too is attracted to him, and they elope to Paris in Guillot’s carriage. Lescaut and Guillot return to discover that Manon has flown. Guillot swears revenge.
(n/a) The apartment of Manon and Des Grieux in the rue Vivienne, Paris Des Grieux is writing a letter to his father telling him all about Manon and how he wants to marry her. She, however, has caught the eye of De Brétigny, who arrives, disguised as a guardsman, with Lescaut. Lescaut reproves Des Grieux for abducting his cousin, but when Des Grieux invites him to read the letter he is sending to his father Lescaut realizes that Des Grieux’s intentions are honourable. In an aside, De Brétigny tells Manon that the Count des Grieux is having his son kidnapped that very evening; she should abandon Des Grieux and enjoy a luxurious life with him instead. Lescaut and De Brétigny depart, and Des Grieux goes out to post the letter. Alone, Manon is in a state of deep agitation. Although she loves Des Grieux, she is unable to resist De Brétigny’s tempting offer. Des Grieux returns and describes his dream of the simple country life they’ll share after their marriage. When knocking is heard at the door, Manon begs Des Grieux not to answer but he ignores her pleas. He is abducted.
(n/a) Scene One The Cours-la-Reine, Paris A crowd is celebrating the King’s birthday, among whom are Lescaut, Guillot and Poussette, Javotte and Rosette. The women reject Guillot, who in turn provokes the possessive De Brétigny. Manon appears, now the toast of fashionable Paris, and is surrounded by admirers. She overhears an exchange between De Brétigny and the Count des Grieux: the Count’s son is to take holy orders and will preach his first sermon later that day at the seminary of St Sulpice. Manon dispatches De Brétigny on an errand in an attempt to elicit further information from the Count. The Count, however, is not deceived by her innocent façade and tells her that his son has entirely forgotten her. Guillot returns with a troupe of dancers from the Opéra hoping to impress Manon, but she is not interested in their performance and abruptly departs for St Sulpice. Scene Two The seminary of St Sulpice Women are leaving the seminary chapel remarking on the eloquence of Des Grieux’s sermon. The Count des Grieux attempts to persuade his son from taking holy orders: in his view he would do better to marry and raise a family, but Des Grieux is resolved to take his vows. Alone, Des Grieux prays for peace of mind. As he goes off to worship, Manon enters; she begs God’s forgiveness and for the return of Des Grieux’s love. Des Grieux rebukes her for her faithlessness and, to Manon’s repeated pleas for forgiveness, insists that he has put their relationship behind him. Her caresses prove too much for him and the lovers are reunited.
(n/a) The Casino at the Hôtel de Transylvanie Lescaut is enjoying himself at the gaming tables amid other gamblers and professional card-sharpers. Manon and Des Grieux enter, much to Guillot’s annoyance. Des Grieux’s money is almost exhausted and Manon persuades him that he must gamble to obtain more. Although at first horrified by this suggestion, he accepts when Guillot challenges him to play against him. Des Grieux repeatedly wins and his opponent stops the game, insinuates that Des Grieux has been cheating and rushes out threatening vengeance. Manon tries to persuade Des Grieux to leave but his honour prevents him from fleeing. Guillot returns with the police who arrest the pair for fraud and prostitution. The Count accuses his son of staining their family honour, but assures him that he will be only temporarily detained. Manon, however, is to be imprisoned. Guillot’s revenge is complete.
On the road to Le Havre Manon has been sentenced to deportation to the colonies. Des Grieux is waiting for her on the road to Le Havre. He learns from Lescaut that a scheme to rescue her has foundered. They overhear the guards talking of Manon, who is dying. Lescaut bribes them in order that Des Grieux can speak with her one last time. Manon, her spirit broken and her body weak, pleads for Des Grieux’s forgiveness. As they reminisce about the past, she dies.
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