- Jules Massenet. Opéra comique in five acts. 1883.
- Libretto by Henri Meilhac and Philippe Gille, after the novel L'histoire du chevalier
des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut by the Abbé Prévost.
- First performance by the Paris Opéra-Comique at the Salle Favart on 19th January 1884.
|Manon Lescaut ||soprano|
|Chevalier des Grieux ||tenor|
|Comte des Grieux, his father ||bass|
|Javotte actresses ||mezzo-soprano|
|Lescaut, Manon's cousin ||baritone|
|Guillot de Morfontaine, an elderly roué ||tenor|
|De Brétigny, a nobleman ||baritone|
|Two Guardsmen ||tenor & baritone|
In the courtyard of an inn at Amiens the coach from Arras arrives, bringing the fifteen-year-old
Manon, to be met by her cousin, on her way to a convent, where her father is sending her. Guillot,
who has been waiting for his dinner at the inn with de Brétigny and the three actresses, Poussette,
Javotte and Rosette, approaches her, offering her, among other things, the use of his coach. She is
reproached by her cousin, but dazzled by the apparent luxury in which others seem to live. Des
Grieux, who is travelling to see his father, catches sight of Manon and falls in love with her and the
two take Guillot's coach and escape together to Paris. Living together there, des Grieux seeks
permission from his father to marry, but Lescaut and de Brétigny arrive, suggesting to Manon a more
luxurious existence and telling her that des Grieux is to be carried off, on his father's orders. In the
Cours-la-Reine in Paris the three actresses have escaped, for a moment, the vigiliance of Guillot.
Manon enters escorted by her new protector, de Brétigny, and learns from the Comte des Grieux that
his son is to be ordained priest. She orders her coach to take her to St Sulpice, where des Grieux is
to preach, leaving Guillot humiliated again, having obeyed her whim of inviting the opera ballet for
her entertainment, something denied her by de Brétigny. At the seminary of St Sulpice Manon
meets des Grieux, who now gives up his intention to enter the priesthood, his love re- awakened. In
the fourth act, at the Hôtel Transylvanie, Lescaut and the actresses are gambling, joined by Guillot.
Manon and des Grieux enter and he is induced to gamble as well, now his fortune is almost
exhausted. He wins, but Guillot accuses him of cheating and has him arrested, supported by the
Comte des Grieux, who hopes to bring his son to his senses. Manon is arrested as his accomplice,
and while des Grieux is quickly released, she is condemned, for her immoral way of life, to
transportation. Attempts to secure her release fail, but Lescaut bribes the sergeant and she is allowed
a final moment with des Grieux in which they recall their earlier happiness. Broken, she dies,
begging his forgiveness.
Massenet's opera, probably his best known, contains a remarkable portrait of Manon, as she
grows from wide-eyed innocence to a guilty womanhood. There are some ambiguities in the
character of Lescaut, her brother in the original novel, but now her cousin, combining in himself the
character of guardian of the family honour, bragging soldier and loyal friend of des Grieux. In Paris
Manon reads back to des Grieux the letter he has written to his father, seeking permission to marry
her, On l'appelle Manon (She is called Manon). By the end of the second act she is bidding farewell
to her relatively humble existence with des Grieux in Adieu, petite table (Farewell, little table). In
a moment of dramatic irony, des Grieux returns to tell her of the country retreat where they will live,
En fermant les yeux (Closing our eyes), followed, as the scene ends, by his abduction. At the
Cours-la-Reine Manon is enjoying the luxury that association with de Brétigny has brought her, expressing
her satisfaction in Je marche sur tous les chemins (I step proudly every way). Des Grieux has music
of particular poignancy in the last act, where he is parted from Manon for ever.