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An opera in five acts
Premiere Opera Comique, Paris, January 19, 1884.
Amiens, Paris, Le Harve, 1721
In the bustle of the Inn at Amiens, Guillot and the de Bretigny are waiting impatiently to dine with three lively ladies of the town. Supper is served and celebrated by the five diners.
Townspeople come to ogle the passengers as they descend from a stagecoach. They are watched also by Lescaut, who took time off from gambling to meet his cousin, Manon, who is on her way to a convent. Manon arrives, excited by her first experience of travel. Guillot exits the inn only to be dazzled by the sight of Manon. His companions mock him. He offers to place his carriage at Manon's disposal. Lescaut takes offense and Guillot leaves. Lescaut lectures Manon about her conduct.
Manon is saddened by the brilliance of the outside world, having just seen it for the first time, especially as it is forbidden to her. Enter Chevalier des Grieux, who has come to catch the stagecoach home. He too, is overcome by the brilliance that is Manon. He is Manon's age. Never was there a match so devastating.
We watch young love grow, and there comes a realization that fate could remove Manon to the Convent. This couple belongs together. The solution to the problem is at hand in the form of Guillot's carriage.
The setting is the lodgings of Manon and des Grieux in the Rue Vivienne, in Paris. The lovers are happy together. She interrupts his writing and he gently chides her. She reads aloud the letter he has written explaining her to his father. She thinks their love is enough but, he doesn't intend to make her his wife.
Des Grieux is about to leave to send the letter when he sees flowers on the floor. Manon explains that they were thrown through the window. There is a noise outside and a maid reports that two guardsmen demand to be admitted. One is Manon's cousin and the other a nobleman, Monsieur de Bretigny, who lodges nearby. When they come in, it is clear that de Bretigny is only posing as a member of the guard.
Lescaut smells profit in a liaison between Manon and a wealthy nobleman, more so than in her relationship with des Grieux. He demands a firm 'yes' or 'no' to his question as to whether des Grieux plans to marry Manon. Des Grieux shows him the letter and he appears satisfied.
De Bretigny contrives to let Manon know that the Chevalier's father has arranged to have him carried off that very night. She wants to warn des Grieux but, De Bretigny cautions that that would lead to misery all around. If she keeps quiet, he will surround her in the luxury which he believes is her destiny. She protests that she loves des Grieux, but faced with such a threat, cannot turn her words into action. Lescaut and De Bretigny take their leave.
Des Grieux goes out with his letter. Manon is saddened and cries. She hides her tears as he returns. He tells her that on his way he had a daydream. He saw a veritable paradise, yet it was a place of sadness. It lacked only one thing: Manon!
There is a disturbance outside. Manon knows that it is the men come to take her lover away. Des Grieux is overpowered and taken away. Manon is left alone.
At a popular fete in the Cours la Riene in Paris, the crowd circulates. Pousette, Rosette, and Javotte have, for the moment, escaped Guillot's vigilant protection. They are out to enjoy themselves on their own. Lescaut finds an excuse to express his gambler's happy go lucky philosophy: 'where's the fun in living cheaply?' Guillot appears, to the discomfort of the three ladies.
It is the moment for Manon's appearance, the climax to a parade of elegance. She is at the height of her worldly success. She is admired by all and not the least bit hesitant to bask in her popularity and fame.
The Comte des Grieux, the Chevalier's father comes in. Manon learns from a conversation between the Comte and de Bretigny that the Chevalier is about to take holy orders at the Saint Sulpice. She timidly approaches the Comte des Grieux, not knowing if he will recognize her, to ask if the Chevalier has recovered from his recent love affair. The old man makes it very clear that the affair is quite finished and the son is recovered.
The Ballet arrives and goes through it paces but, Manon broods over her lost love. She makes up her mind to go to him. She asks Lescaut to take her to Saint Sulpice. Guillot is left paying the bill.
Saint Sulpice: a chorus of devout ladies gushes about the new Abbe des Grieux. He arrives followed by his father. The old man tries every argument that he can think of to convince his son not to join the order. He even pleas with him to marry a suitable girl and start a family. His father finally leaves, after having given his assurance to Chevalier that his inheritance from his mother will be made over without delay. With his father gone, Chevalier wrestles over his past, his conscience, and lost love.
As Chevalier moves off to take part in the service, Manon appears. She asks to speak to the Abbe des Grieux. She sings a prayer to God for the restoration to her of the love of des Grieux. In a moment he is at her side. He denies her pleas with a note of mounting hysteria. Manon plays her last card "Don't you feel my hand on your own hand pressing?" Des Grieux finds his resolve crumbling into an avowal of eternal love.
A fashionable gambling house at the Hotel Transylvanie. Lescaut, Pousette, Javotte, and Rosette are at the tables. There are signs that all the playing is not above board. Guillot enters and sings a risque song with gestures about the Regent and his mistress.
Manon makes her entrance with des Grieux. She urges him to play after she wrings from him a declaration of love so complete it puts his other avowals to shame.
Meanwhile, Lescaut has been cleaned out. Guillot challenges des Grieux, who wins. Guillot abruptly closes the game with the accusation that his opponent has been cheating and leaves the gaming room. Des Grieux will not escape as Manon urges; leaving would be an admission of guilt. Guillot returns with the police at his side. He demands the arrest of des Grieux as a cheat and Manon as his accomplice. When des Grieux makes a move towards Guillot, his father intervenes and tries to shame him into accepting the situation. The lovers are arrested. Des Grieux goes to prison, but is released quickly. Manon goes to trial and faces the near certainty of transportation as a lady of easy virtue.
On the road to Le Harve: Des Grieux has plotted with Lescaut to free Manon as she is led to the ship. As the time approaches, Lescaut reveals that his men fled at the sight of the guards' muskets.
The guards and Manon approach and one of the guards tells his sergeant that Manon is at the end of her strength. Lescaut bribes the sergeant and the guard. Manon appears to be in a state of complete exhaustion.
Manon and des Grieux reminisce about their past happiness. Manon asks her lover for forgiveness for the wrong she has done him and, with the quote "Now you know the story of Manon Lescaut," and half-smile, dies.
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