Opera Scotland

Manon

Music
Jules Massenet (born Montaud, Loire, 12 May 1842; died Paris, 13 August 1912)

Text
Henri Meilhac and Philippe Gille.

Source
Novel L’histoire du Chevalier des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut (1731) by Abbé Prévost (1697-1763).

Premieres
First performance: Paris (Opéra-Comique), 19 January 1884.
First UK performance: Liverpool (Royal Court Theatre), 17 January 1885.
First performance in Scotland: Edinburgh (Royal Lyceum Theatre), 11 November 1885.
Scottish Opera premiere: Glasgow (Theatre Royal), 20 May 2009.

Background
The subject of Manon Lescaut was a popular one with composers in the 19th century, from Balfe and Auber, to Massenet and Puccini. Even though the last has many good things, there can be little doubt that Massenet’s is the masterpiece. It quickly became one of the most successful French operas. It contains a range of scenes, contrasting luxury and squalor, as the characters enjoy a career that leads inexorably to the heroine’s demise. Much of the music is glittering and witty, but when required it can be touching, and the scenes where Manon lures her lover from the church and her death scene are both powerfully dramatic.

Main Characters
Manon Lescaut (soprano)
Chevalier des Grieux (tenor)
Lescaut, a Royal Guardsman, Manon’s cousin (baritone)
Guillot de Morfontaine, a government minister (tenor)
De Brétigny, a nobleman, commanding a regiment (baritone)
Poussette, Javotte and Rosette, three actresses (sopranos)
Comte des Grieux, father of Chevalier des Grieux (bass)

Plot Summary
The opera is set in France in 1721. In the square at Amiens Lescaut is escorting his beautiful young cousin Manon to a convent. She attracts the attention of two dissolute noblemen, Guillot and De Brétigny, who are passing through with a group of actresses. However Manon is more attracted to Des Grieux, a young student who has also fallen for her. They use the coach hired by Guillot and abscond to Paris, where they live together for some time. As their money runs out and Des Grieux feels the effect of his father’s disapproval, Manon is lured away from him by De Brétigny’s money. Des Grieux decides to enter the church despite his father’s opposition. Once Manon becomes bored with her life of luxury she tracks Des Grieux down and he abandons his vocation to return to her. Desperate for money, they become involved in gambling and Des Grieux is falsely accused of cheating while Manon is arrested for prostitution. She is sentenced to transportation to Louisiana. Des Grieux follows her as the convicts are marched to the ship at Le Havre. He bribes the guards to leave her behind, but she is too weak to benefit and dies by the roadside.

The Cast

Archer
 
Chevalier des Grieux
 
Comte des Grieux
 the Chevalier's father
De Brétigny
 a nobleman
Guillot de Morfontaine
 Finance Minister
Innkeeper
 
Javotte
 an actress
Lescaut
 a Guards officer, Manon's cousin
Maid
 
Manon
 Manon Lescaut
Poussette
 an actress
Rosette
 an actress
Sacristan
 
Sergeant
 

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