In four acts by J. MASSENET.
Text by HENRY MEILHAC and PHILIPPE GILLE.
The subject of this opera is based on Prevost's famous novel "Manon
Lescaut". The libretto is much weaker than the story, but the music is
most graceful and charming, and quite makes up for the defects of the
The scene is laid in France in 1721.
The first act takes place in the courtyard of a large inn at Amiens.
Several young cavaliers are amusing themselves by paying attentions to
three pretty ladies. They impatiently call upon their host to
bring dinner, and at last it is brought to them in great state.
While they are dining in the large saloon above, the stage-coach
arrives with a great number of travellers; amongst them is young Manon,
a country girl of sixteen; this is her first journey which alas is to
end in a convent, an arrangement made by her parents who think her
taste for worldly pleasures is greater than it should be. She is
expected by her cousin Lescaut, a Garde du Corps, and while he is
looking for her luggage, the young beauty is accosted by
Guillot-Marfontaine, an old roue, and rich farmer, who annoys her with
his equivocal speeches, and offers her a seat in his carriage. He is
quickly driven away by Lescaut on his return; the young man is however
enticed away by his comrades to play a game of cards, for which purpose
he leaves his cousin a second time. Before long another cavalier
approaches Manon; this time it is the Chevalier de Grieux, a young
nobleman, whose good looks and charming manners please the young girl
much better. They quickly fall in love with each other, and when de
Grieux offers to take her to Paris Manon gladly consents, thankful to
escape the convent. Remembering Guillot's offer she proposes to make
use of the farmer's carriage, and they drive gaily off, just before
Lescaut returns to look for his cousin. When this worthy soldier hears
that the fugitives have gone off in Guillot's carriage, he abuses the
farmer with great fury and swears, that he will not rest, until
he shall have found his little cousin.
The second act takes place in a poorly furnished apartment in Paris.
De Grieux is about to write to his father, whom he hopes to reconcile
to his purpose of marrying Manon, by telling him of the girl's beauty,
of her youth and innocence. They are interrupted by the entrance of
Lescaut, who, accompanied by de Bretigny, another victim of Manon's
charms, comes to avenge the honour of the family. While Grieux takes
Lescaut aside and pacifies him by showing him the letter he has just
written, de Bretigny tells Manon, that her lover will be kidnapped this
very evening by his father's orders. Manon protests warmly against
this act of tyranny, but de Bretigny warns her that her interference
would only bring greater harm to both of them, while riches, honours
and liberty will be hers, if she lets things take their course.
Manon who on the one hand sincerely loves de Grieux while on the other
hand she has a longing for all the good things of this world, is very
unhappy but allows herself to be tempted. When de Grieux leaves her to
post his letter she takes a most tender farewell of the little table at
which they have so often sat, of the one glass from which they both
drank, and of all the objects around. De Grieux finding her in tears,
tries to console her by picturing the future of his dreams, a little
cottage in the wood, where they are to live for ever happy and
contented. A loud knock interrupts them, Manon, knowing what will
happen tries to detain him, but he tears himself from her and opening
the door is at once seized and carried off.
The third act opens on the promenade Cour-la-Reine in Paris, a scene of
merry making where all the buying, selling and amusements of a great
fair are going on.
The pretty ladies of the first act, Yavotte, Poussette and Rosette are
being entertained by new lovers, while rich old Guillot looks in vain
for a sweetheart.
Manon, who appears on de Bretigny's arm, is the queen of the festival.
She has stifled the pangs of conscience which had troubled her when she
left de Grieux, and her passion of jewels and riches is as insatiable
as ever. Guillot, who hears that de Bretigny has refused to comply
with her last wish, which is to order the ballet of the grand opera to
dance in the open market-place for her own amusement, rushes off to pay
for this whim himself, hoping thereby to gain the young lady's favour.
Manon slowly wanders about in search of new and pretty things to buy,
while Bretigny suddenly finds himself face to face with the old count
de Grieux. When he asks for news of his son, the count tells him, that
the young man has renounced the world and become an Abbe and is a
famous preacher at Saint Sulpice. He cuts de Bretigny's
expressions of astonishment short by telling him, that this turn of
things is due to de Bretigny's own conduct, meaning that the latter had
done a bad turn to his friend by crossing his path in relation to a
certain pretty young lady. De Bretigny indicating his lady-love by a
gesture says: "That is Manon", and the count, perceiving her beauty
quite understands his son's infatuation.
But Manon's quick ears have also caught bits of the conversation and
beckoning to her lover she sends him away to buy a golden bracelet for
her. She then approaches the count and asks him, if his son has quite
overcome his passion for the lady whom she says was a friend of hers.
The old man acknowledges, that his son had had a hard struggle with his
love and grief but adds "one must try and forget" and Manon repeats the
words and falls into a fit of sad musing.
Meanwhile Guillot has succeeded in bringing the ballet-dancers who
perform a beautiful gavotte and other dances. When these are ended he
turns to Manon in hope of a word of praise, but the wilful beauty only
turns from him to order her carriage, which is to take her to Saint
Sulpice, saying lightly to Guillot that she has not cared to look at
the ballet after all.
The next scene takes place in the parlour of the seminary in Saint
Sulpice. A crowd of ladies has assembled to praise the new Abbe's fine
preaching. They at last disperse, when the young Abbe enters with
downcast eyes. He is warmly greeted by his father, who has
followed him. The father at first tries to persuade him to give up his
newly chosen vocation before he finally takes the vows, but seeing him
determined, the Count hands him over his mother's inheritage of 30,000
Lires [Transcriber's note: Livres?] and then bids him good-bye. The
young man retires to find strength and forgetfulness in prayer.
When he returns to the parlour he finds Manon. She has also prayed
fervently, that God would pardon her and help her to win back her
lover's heart. A passionate scene ensues, in which Manon implores his
forgiveness and is at last successful, De Grieux opens his arms to her
and abandons his vocation.
The fourth act opens in the luxurious drawing-rooms of a great Paris
Hotel. Games of hazard and lively conversation are going on
everywhere. Manon arriving with de Grieux is joyously greeted by her
old friends. She coaxes her lover to try his luck at play and is
seconded by her cousin Lescaut, himself an inveterate gambler, who
intimates that fortune always favours a beginner. Guillot offers to
play with de Grieux, and truly fortune favours him. After a few turns,
in which Guillot loses heavily, the latter rises accusing his partner
of false play.
The Chevalier full of wrath is about to strike him, but the others hold
him back and Guillot escapes, vowing vengeance. He soon returns with
the police headed by the old Count de Grieux, to whom he
denounces young de Grieux as a gambler and a cheat and points out Manon
as his accomplice. Old Count de Grieux allows his son to be arrested,
telling him he will soon be released. Poor Manon is seized by the
guards, though all the spectators, touched by her youth and beauty beg
for her release. The old Count says she only gets her deserts.
The last scene takes place on the highroad leading to Havre. Cousin
Lescaut meets de Grieux whom he had promised to try to save Manon from
penal servitude by effecting her escape. Unfortunately the soldiers he
employed had meanly deserted him, on hearing which de Grieux violently
upbraids him. Lescaut pacifies the desperate nobleman by saying that
he has thought of other means of rescuing Manon. Soon the waggons
conveying the convicts to their destination are heard approaching. One
of these waggons stops. Lescaut, accosting one of the soldiers in
charge hears that Manon is inside, dying. He begs that he may be
allowed to take a last farewell of his little cousin, and bribing the
man with money he succeeds in getting Manon out of the waggon,
promising to bring her to the nearest village in due time.
Manon sadly changed totters forward and finds herself clasped in her
lover's arms. For a little while the two forget all their woes in the
joy of being together; Manon deeply repents of her sins and follies and
humbly craves his pardon, while he covers her wan face with
kisses. Then he tries to raise her, imploring her to fly with him, but
alas release has come too late, she sinks back and expires in her
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