by Giacomo Puccini
Manon Lescaut is an opera in four acts by Giacomo Puccini. The story is based on the 1731 novel L’histoire du chevalier des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut by the Abbé Prévost.
The libretto is in Italian. It was somehow cobbled together by five librettists whom Puccini employed (or went through): Ruggero Leoncavallo, Marco Praga, Giuseppe Giacosa, Domenico Oliva and Luigi Illica. The publisher, Giulio Ricordi, and the composer himself also contributed to the libretto. So confused was the authorship of the libretto that no one was credited on the title page of the original score.
Puccini took some musical elements in Manon Lescaut from earlier works he had written. For example, the madrigal Sulla vetta tu del monte from Act II echoes the Agnus Dei from his 1880 Messa a quattro voci. Other elements of Manon Lescaut come from his compositions for strings: the quartet Crisantemi (January 1890), three Menuets (probably 1884) and a Scherzo (1883?). The love theme comes from the aria Mentia l’avviso (1883).
A public square near the Paris Gate
Des Grieux enters, but is melancholic and does not join the other students. They joke with him .
Des Grieux overhears their conversation: Manon is on her way to a convent, following the instructions of her father. Des Grieux approaches her and begs her to meet him later; she reluctantly agrees. The students laugh, pointing at the pair. After Manon leaves, Des Grieux sings of his feelings for her .
Lescaut returns with Geronte, who also is captivated by Manon, saying she would only be wasted in a convent. While Lescaut is playing cards with a group of students, Geronte arranges to abduct Manon and take her to Paris . Edmund overhears the plan and informs Des Grieux. He advises him to accompany Manon in the carriage arranged by Geronte . Des Grieux declares his love to Manon and persuades her to go to Paris with him. They leave together. Geronte and Lescaut arrive on the scene as they disappear, and Lescaut proposes that they follow the carriage to Paris.
A room in Geronte’s house in Paris
The act begins with Manon as Geronte’s mistress. Manon and her hairdresser are in the room when Lescaut enters . She tells him that Geronte is too old and wicked; he bores her. Manon is sad, and her thoughts turn to Des Grieux .
Musicians arranged by Geronte enter to amuse her . Geronte brings a dancing master; they dance a minuet, then she sings a gavotte. After dancing, Geronte and the musicians leave the house.
Lescaut is upset knowing that his sister is not happy living with Geronte, and he goes to find Des Grieux. Des Grieux appears in Geronte’s house . As they renew their vows of love, Geronte returns unexpectedly. He salutes them ironically, reminding Manon of his many favors to her. She replies that she cannot love him .
Bowing low, he leaves them. The lovers rejoice in their freedom . Lescaut urges them to leave the house at once, but Manon hesitates at the thought of leaving her jewels and pretty frocks. Again, Lescaut enters in breathless haste, making signs that they must depart immediately. Manon snatches up her jewels, and they go to the door. It is locked by Geronte’s order. Soldiers appear to arrest Manon, who, in trying to escape, drops the jewels at Geronte’s feet. She is dragged off, and Des Grieux is not permitted to follow her .
After trying everything to release Manon from the prison but to no avail, Des Grieux goes to Le Havre.
A square near the harbor in Le Havre
It is dawn. Manon is in prison with other courtesans . Lescaut has bribed a prison guard to let Des Grieux speak with Manon. By talking to her through the bars, they learn that she is to be deported to Louisiana. A lamplighter passes, singing a song while he extinguishes the lights .
They attempt a rescue, but in vain. The guard appears, escorting a group of women, who are going on the same ship as Manon. She walks among them, pale and sad. The crowd makes brutal comments during the roll call of the courtesans but Lescaut inspires pity for Manon .
Des Grieux, in despair at the idea of being separated from Manon forever, goes to Manon’s side. He tries to seize her but is roughly pushed away by the sergeant. However, the captain of the ship sees his inte
nse grief and allows him to board the ship.
A vast plain near the outskirts of the New Orleans territory
The act begins with the lovers making their way across the desert hoping to find protection in a British settlement. Wandering in the desert without any water, the ailing Manon is exhausted. She falls and can’t go any farther .
Des Grieux is alarmed by Manon’s appearance and goes to look for water. While he is gone, Manon recalls her past, muses about her fatal beauty and her fate.
Des Grieux returns, having been unable to find water. Manon bids him a heart-rending farewell and dies in his arms. Overcome by grief, Des Grieux falls unconscious across her body.