Music with Ease > 19th Century Italian Opera > Manon Lescaut - Puccini
An Opera by Giacomo Puccini
Opera in four acts, by Puccini. Produced at Turin, February 1, 1893. Covent Garden, London, May 14, 1894. Grand Opera House, Philadelphia, in English, August 29, 1894; Wallacks Theatre, New York, May 27, 1898, by the Milan Royal Italian Opera Company of La Scala; Metropolitan Opera House, New York, January 18, 1907, with Caruso, Cavalieri, and Scotti. The libretto, founded on Abbé Prévosts novel, is by Puccini, assisted by a committee of friends. The composer himself directed the production at the Metropolitan Opera House.
LESCAUT, sergeant of the Kings Guards
CHEVALIER DES GRIEUX
GERONTE DE RAVOIR, Treasurer-General
EDMUND, a student
Time: Second half of eighteenth century.
Place: Amiens, Paris, Le Havre, Louisiana.
Act I. plays in front of an inn at Amiens. Edmund has a solo with chorus for students and girls. Lescaut, Geronte, and Manon arrive in a diligence. Lescaut is taking his sister to a convent to complete her education, but finding her to be greatly admired by the wealthy Geronte, is quite willing to play a negative part and let the old satyr plot with the landlord to abduct Manon. Des Grieux, however, has seen her. "Donna non vidi mai simile a questa" (Never did I behold so fair a maiden), he sings in praise of her beauty.
With her too it is love at first sight. When she rejoins him, as she had promised to, they have a love duet. "Vedete! Io son fedele alla parola mia" (Behold me! I have been faithful to my promise), she sings. Edmund, who has overhead Gerontes plot to abduct Manon, informs Des Grieux, who has little trouble inducing the girl to elope with him. They drive off in the carriage Geronte had ordered. Lescaut, who has been carousing with the students, hints that, as Des Grieux is not wealthy and Manon loves luxury, he will soon be able to persuade her to desert her lover for the rich Treasurer-General.
Such, indeed, is the case, and in Act II., she is found ensconced in luxurious apartments in Gerontes house in Paris. But to Lescaut, who prides himself on having brought the business with her wealthy admirer to a successful conclusion, she complains that "in quelle trine morbide" -- in those silken curtains -- theres a chill that freezes her. "O mia dimora umile, tu mi ritorni innanzi (My little humble dwelling, I see you there before me). She left Des Grieux for wealth and the luxuries it can bring -- "Tell me, does not this gown suit me to perfection?" she asks Lescaut -- and yet she longs for her handsome young lover.
Geronte sends singers to entertain her. They sing a madrigal, "Sulla vetta tu del monte erri, O Clori" (Speed oer the summit of the mountain, gentle Chloe).
Then a dancing master enters. Manon, Lescaut, Geronte, and old beaus and abbés, who have come in with Geronte, form for the dance, and a lesson in the minuet begins.
Lescaut hurries off to inform Des Grieux, who has made money in gambling, where he can find Manon. When the lesson is over and all have gone, her lover appears at the door. At first he reproaches her, but soon is won by her beauty. There is an impassioned love duet, "Vieni! Colle tue braccia stringi Manon che tama" (Oh, come love! In your arms enfold Manon, who loves you).
Geronte surprises them, pretends to approve of their affection, but really sends for the police. Lescaut urges them to make a precipitate escape. Manon, however, now loathe to leave the luxuries Geronte has lavished on her, insists on gathering up her jewels in order to take them with her. The delay is fatal. The police arrive. She is arrested on the charge made by Geronte that she is an abandoned woman.
Her sentence is banishment, with other women of loose character, to the then French possession of Louisiana. The journey to Havre for embarkation is represented by an intermezzo in the score, and an extract from Abbé Prévosts story in the libretto. The theme of the "Intermezzo," a striking composition, is as follows:
Act III. The scene is laid in a square near the harbour at Havre. Des Grieux and Lescaut attempt to free Manon from imprisonment, but are foiled. There is much hubbub. Then the roll is called of the women, who are to be transported. As they step forward, the crowd comments upon their looks. This, together with Des Grieuxs plea to the captain of the ship to be taken along with Manon, no matter how lowly the capacity in which he may be required to serve on board, make a dramatic scene.
Act IV. "A vast plain on the borders of the territory of New Orleans. The country is bare and undulating, the horizon is far distant, the sky is overcast. Night falls." Thus the libretto. The score is a long, sad duet between Des Grieux and Manon. Manon dies of exhaustion. Des Grieux falls senseless upon her body.