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Manon Lescaut
Manon Lescaut (Giacomo Puccini)
  • Giacomo Puccini. Dramma lirico in four acts. 1892. Revised for Milan in 1894.
  • Libretto by Domenico Oliva and Luigi Illica, after the novel L'listoire du chevalier des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut by the Abbé Prévost.
  • First performance at the Teatro Regio, Turin, on 1st February 1893.
Manon Lescaut soprano
Lescaut, her brother, Sergeant of the Royal Guards baritone
Il cavaliere des Grieux, a student tenor
Geronte di Ravoir, Treasurer-General bass
Edmondo, a student tenor
Innkeeper bass
Singer mezzo-soprano
Dancing-Master tenor
Lamplighter tenor
Sergeant of the Royal Archers bass
Naval Captain bass

In a square in Amiens Edmond and other students tease the girls, as they go home. Des Grieux, also a student, does not join in their banter. The Arras coach arrives, bringing Géronte, the Treasurer- General, Lescaut, a soldier, and his sister Manon. Des Grieux falls in love with her and seeks some way of preventing her entry into a convent, where her father is sending her. Géronte, with Lescaut's connivance, plans to abduct Manon, but is overheard by Edmond. Des Grieux and Manon escape in Géronte's coach. In the second act Manon has already been tempted to leave des Grieux and is living a dull if relatively luxurious life with Géronte. Lescaut arranges for des Grieux, now introduced by him to gambling, to visit her and she seeks his forgiveness. They are interrupted by Géronte and Lescaut now enters, warning them that the old man has denounced Manon to the authorities. She tries to collect her jewellery and other belongings, but is caught and arrested before she can escape. Imprisoned, she is sentenced to be transported, events covered in an orchestral interlude. At Le Havre Lescaut tries to bribe the guards to allow his sister to escape, but fails. Des Grieux, however, is able to exchange words with her, at the window of her prison. He persuades the captain of the ship that will take her and the other convicts to America to allow him to sail with them as a cabin- boy. In the fourth act des Grieux has had a duel with the son of the French governor of the province and he and Manon have escaped, hoping to cross the desert to British territory. He leaves her, searching for water, and when he returns she is already dying, pledging him her love in her last breath.

Puccini's libretto is far more succinct than that used by Massenet and makes for a more satisfactory, shorter and more coherent opera. The text for Puccini, however, caused a number of difficulties, making use of the services first of the playwright Marco Praga and the poet Domenico Praga, then of Leoncavallo and finally of Luigi Illica. Des Grieux expresses his search for love in the first scene, with Tra voi, belle (Amongst you, fair ones), finding what he has sought in Donna non vidi mai (Never saw I such a lady). With In quelle trine morbide (In those dull hangings), Manon regrets the boredom of her life with Géronte, greeting with rapture des Grieux, in Tu, tu, amore? Tu?! (You, you, my love? You?). He senses her weakness in Ah! Manon, mi tradisce il tuo folle pensier (Ah! Manon, your foolish thoughts betray me), as she seeks to take with her the jewels Géronte has given her. There is a moving Intermezzo, a recollection of past joys, as Manon is tried and condemned and as she lies dying in the desert waste she sings her final Sola, perduta, abbandonata (Alone, lost, forsaken).


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