“Manon Lescaut” (Puccini)

Manon Lescaut is an Italian-language opera in four acts composed by Giacomo Puccini between 1889 and 1892.

Seventeen-year-old Des Grieux, studying philosophy at Amiens, comes from a noble and landed family, but forfeits his hereditary wealth and incurs the disappointment of his father by running away with Manon on her way to a convent. In Paris, the young lovers enjoy a blissful cohabitation, while Des Grieux struggles to satisfy Manon’s taste for luxury. He acquires money by borrowing from his unwaveringly loyal friend Tiberge and by cheating gamblers. On several occasions, Des Grieux’s wealth evaporates (by theft, in a house fire, etc.), prompting Manon to leave him for a richer man because she cannot stand the thought of living in penury.

The two lovers finally end up in New Orleans, to which Manon has been deported as a prostitute, where they pretend to be married and live in idyllic peace for a while. But when Des Grieux reveals their unmarried state to the Governor, Étienne de Perier, and asks to be wed to Manon, the de Perier’s nephew sets his sights on winning Manon’s hand. In despair, Des Grieux challenges the de Perier’s nephew to a duel and knocks him unconscious. Thinking he had killed the man and fearing retribution, the couple flee New Orleans and venture into the wilderness of Louisiana, hoping to reach an English settlement. Manon dies of exposure and exhaustion the following morning and, after burying his beloved, Des Grieux is eventually taken back to France by Tiberge.

Composer: Giacomo Puccini 
Librettists: Luigi Illica, Marco Praga, Domenico Oliva
Language: Italian
Based on Abbé Prévost's novel Histoire du Chevalier des Grieux, et de Manon Lescaut
Premiere: 1 February 1893, Teatro Regio, Turin

Principal Roles:
Manon Lescaut - soprano
Lescaut, her brother and guardian, a sergeant in the King's guard - baritone
Chevalier Renato des Grieux, a student - tenor
Geronte di Ravoir, Treasurer General - bass
Edmondo, a student - tenor
Innkeeper - bass
P. A. J. DAGNAN-BOUVERET, Reduction d’après l’original exposé au Salon de 1878 Paris, Sep-Oct 1878

Synopsis

ACT I

France, the 1940s. A square in Amiens. Edmondo, a songwriter, and his student companions flirt with some factory girls. His friend, des Grieux, also a student, stays apart from them. A coach arrives, bringing Geronte, a tax collector, and Lescaut, a soldier, who is accompanying his younger sister, Manon. Des Grieux falls in love with her at first sight, finds out that her father is sending her to a convent, and makes plansto prevent this from happening. But Geronte, with Lescaut’s connivance, intends to abduct Manon. Edmondo overhears his plans and warns des Grieux, who escapes with Manon to Paris. Lescaut consoles Geronte by telling him that Manon will not stay long with a student and that he will bring her back to him.

ACT II

A house in Paris. Manon has left des Grieux and is living a life of luxury with Geronte. She’s bored and her brother promises to arrange for des Grieux to visit her. Some singers serenade Manon with a madrigal written by Geronte. Then she dances and sings for him and his friends. When they leave she tells Geronte that she will follow shortly, but des Grieux appears and Manon starts to seduce him. Geronte interrupts their lovemaking, chillingly threatens the two of them, and leaves, telling them he will return soon. Lescaut runs in, warning the lovers that Geronte is going to get Manon arrested and that she must escape. She delays, trying to collect her jewelry, but is arrested before she can escape.

INTERMEZZO

Imprisonment: The journey to Le Havre. The thoughts of des Grieux.

ACT III

Outside a prison in Le Havre by the harbor. Dawn. Des Grieux waits outside the prison where Manon is held. Lescaut bribes a sentry to allow his sister to spend time withdes Grieux, while he organizes a group to enable her escape. The effort fails, a shot is fired. Townspeople run in. The soldiers restore order and the captain of the ship processes Manon and the other prisoners—mostly prostitutes—before they are deported. In desperation des Grieux grabs Lecsaut’s weapon and threatens the captain, who faces him down. Des Grieux pleads with the captain to be allowed to sail with them as one of the crew.

ACT IV

A desert. Des Grieux and Manon are on the run. They are at the end of their strength, collapsing from thirst and exhaustion. Des Grieux leaves Manon, searching for water. When he returns, he finds her dying. In her last breath she says she loves him.

Source: Metropolitan Opera