Manon Lescaut

The first act takes place at Amiens. The scene is a large square near the Paris Gate. On the right is an avenue, and on the left an inn, under whose porch are tables for customers. An outer staircase leads to the upper floor of the inn. A mixed crowd of students, citizens, women, and soldiers are strolling about the square and along the avenue. Some are gaming. Edmondo enters with some other students, followed later by Des Grieux. The students act as a chorus to Edmondo's "Ave, sera gentile" (Hail, beautiful night). When Des Grieux enters in melancholy mood, the students joke him. The girls, for whom the students have been waiting, now enter from their work. They turn away from Des Grieux, and Edmondo begs his friends to leave him alone. A postillion's horn is heard and a diligence arrives, from which Lescaut, Geronte, and Manon alight. Des Grieux is enchanted with Manon's beauty, and when Lescaut goes into the inn, approaches Manon, and obtains her consent to meet him later. Lescaut comes back with Geronte. He has brought his sister Manon to enter her in a convent. Geronte, who is enamored of the girl, tells Lescaut that his pretty little sister seems unhappy. He invites Lescaut to sup with him, and Lescaut accepts the invitation. Lescaut is attracted by the gamblers and takes part in their gaming. Geronte, seeing Lescaut absorbed in the the game, determines to run away with Manon. He tells the innkeeper he will want horses and a carriage in an hour, and that he must keep silent if he sees a man and a maiden go off. Edmondo overhears the conversation, and suggests to Des Grieux that he should run away with Manon and take Geronte's place in the carriage. Manon keeps her assignation with Des Grieux, and the two go off as Lescaut and Geronte appear on the scene. Geronte is then told by Edmondo that Manon has gone off with the young student. In disgusted astonishment, Geronte disturbs Lescaut in his play and tries to prevail upon him to follow the flying pair. Lescaut, however, will have the supper promised him, and says he will go after Manon in the morning. The curtain falls to the sound of loud laughter from the students.

In the second act the scene changes from Amiens to Paris. The curtain goes up discovering a handsomely furnished room in Geronte's house, in which Manon is now living as his mistress. She had left Des Grieux when his money was gone. Manon is seated at her toilet-table, waited on by the hair-dresser with two assistants. She is instructing the hair-dresser to be careful in the work of doing her hair. Lescaut now enters and congratulates his sister on her change in life. Manon keeps instructing the hair-dresser, and, when the toilet is finally completed, steps forward to be admired by her brother. In spite of her brother's praise of her beauty and position, Manon is sad at having left Des Grieux. She is always thinking of him. Geronte is old, and bad, and a bore. Singers now enter, sent by Geronte to amuse Manon, and they sing a madrigal in praise of Manon's beauty. Manon gives her brother money with which to pay the singers, but Lescaut pockets the purse, saying he would not insult them by offering them money. He bids them farewell in the name of glory, and the singers bow themselves out. Geronte now enters, bringing with him a dancing master, musicians, and some old friends. Manon is bored by them all. Under Geronte's instructions a minuet is danced, in which Manon takes part, led by the dancing-master.

Geronte now suggests that it is time to take a stroll on the boulevards, and begs Manon to join them there later. He leaves, kissing Manon's hand., and all depart with him. Manon is alone, and busies herself arranging her toilet for the promenade, while waiting for the sedan chair Geronte has gone to order. Des Grieux suddenly appears, and they renew their love vows in a charming duet. They have barely finished embracing each other when Geronte comes back. They separate hurriedly, in surprise at being discovered. Des Grieux makes a menacing step forward towards Geronte, but Manon places herself between them. Geronte jeers at her and reminds her of all that he has done for her. She answers him by placing a mirror in his hand and bids him look there and he will see why she cannot love him. Geronte controls his anger and leaves the two together, smiling in sarcasm, and promising them that they will meet again quickly. The lovers are overjoyed at being left alone. They determine to go away together. Manon, however, is loath to leave her jewels and pretty dresses. Des Grieux is bitter at her disposition, which can be so easily led by the allurements of pretty things rather than by love. Manon is moved by his despair and begs forgiveness. She swears to be true and faithful to him. Lescaut now enters hurriedly and entreats them to get away at once. The vile old scoundrel, as he calls Geronte, has called the guards, and these must be now on their way. Manon quickly seizes her jewels, and she and Des Grieux make for the door. They find it locked. Lescaut pushes Manon and Des Grieux into an alcove and follows after them. A scream from Manon is heard, and immediately after she rushes out of the alcove, followed by Des Grieux and her brother. From the open curtains of the alcove come soldiers. The door is now burst open and soldiers rush in to arrest Manon. In trying to escape, Manon lets fall the jewels. She is dragged away by the soldiers, who will not permit Des Grieux to go with them.

An Intermezzo is now played, during which Des Grieux declares his intention to follow Manon even to the end of the world.

The third act takes place in Le Havre. The scene is a square near the harbor. On the left is a soldiers' prison, showing a window protected by iron bars. On the side looking towards the square is a large closed gate, at which a sentinel stands guard. In the distant harbor a man-of-war ship is partly visible. Manon is in prison, and Des Grieux and Lescaut have come to Le Havre to be near her. Des Grieux is distracted with grief. Lescaut tells Des Grieux he has bribed an archer, who will take the guard's place when the latter is relieved. As the dawn breaks Lescaut approaches the barracks, and, exchanging a sign with the new sentinel, goes up to the barred window and taps cautiously. Manon appears at the window, and is overjoyed at seeing Des Grieux. She tells him she is to be taken to America. They attempt a rescue, but they are disturbed in their efforts by the firing of shots. They are compelled to leave. A guard appears, bringing a number of women who are to sail to America; Manon is one of them. As they pass by, Lescaut points out his sister to one of the citizens, who have come to watch the embarkation, and tells him that he knows her story. She was abducted from her young lover. Des Grieux attempts to walk by Manon's side, but the sergeant of the guard pushes him aside roughly. Des Grieux threatens him, and entreats Manon to cling to him. Urged on by Lescaut, the citizens take Des Grieux's part. The captain of the vessel suddenly appears, and, learning what the trouble is, takes pity on Des Grieux and permits him to go on board with the rest for America. Des Grieux is overcome with joy, and Manon, realizing the help that is come to her, opens her arms to her lover, who embraces her. Lescaut, astonished at the turn things have taken, shakes his head and walks away.

The fourth act takes us to America. The scene is a great plain near New Orleans. The sky is overcast, and night is falling. Manon and Des Grieux enter, poorly clothed and evidently worn out from fatigue. Manon is exhausted and leans heavily on Des Grieux. They do not know where to find either food or shelter, or even water to drink. Manon is in the last stages of weakness, and Des Grieux is beside himself with despair. He finds a resting place for her, and goes off to look for water. Manon, thinking he has forsaken her entirely, feels there is now no hope for her at all. Only the tomb, she cries, can release her from her burden. Des Grieux comes back in time to be present at her last moments. She dies, declaring her love for him. Des Grieux falls senseless on her body.

adapted from Charles Annesley, The Standard Operaglass, 1920.

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7 Nov 2005