Manon





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

text.



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

lover's embrace.





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