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Giacomo Puccini

Manon Lescaut

Manon Lescaut by Abbe Prevost

Manon Lescaut, in full Histoire du chevalier des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut, sentimental novel by Antoine-François, Abbé Prévost d’Exiles (1697-1763), published in 1731 as the last installment of Prévost’s seven-volume opus Mémoires et aventures d’un homme de qualité qui s’est retiré du monde (1728–31; “Memories and Adventures of a Man of Quality Who Has Retired from the World”). The work concerns the downward progress of the chevalier des Grieux, a young seminary student of noble birth. An ambiguous mixture of disinterested passion and shabby criminality, it relates how des Grieux, a young scapegrace but also a man of the most exquisite sentiment, sacrifices himself to the amoral, delicate, and forever enigmatic courtesan Manon. In this tragic tale love conquers all, but it constantly needs vulgar money to sustain it. Prévost’s successful blending of traditional romance and sordid realism, together with his ambivalent characterization of the chevalier, made many consider the work a masterpiece.

The story was adapted for opera as Manon by Jules Massenet and as Manon Lescaut by Giacomo Puccini.

Illustrations from "Manon Lescaut" by Alastair 
Hans Henning Otto Harry Baron von Voigt (1887 – 1969), best known by his nickname Alastair, was a German artist, composer, dancer, poet, singer and translator.

Giacomo Puccini
Manon Lescaut

Giacomo Puccini - Manon Lescaut
Manon Lescaut : Anna Netrebko
Chevalier des Grieux : Roberto Alagna
Lescaut : Adrian Erod
comte des Grieux : Ain Anger
Guillot de Morfontaine : Michael Roider
Brétigny : In-Sung Sim
Poussette : Simina Ivan
Javotte : Sophie Marilley
Rosette : Juliette Mars

conductor : Bertrand de Billy

Giacomo Puccini - Manon Lescaut

Both Massenet's Manon and Puccini's Manon Lescaut are based on the Аbbe Antoine Francois Prevost's popular little novel Les aventures du Chevalier des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut, but Massenet's work was already an established success when Puccini produced his version. Such considerations never seemed to bother Puccini very much. His friend Leoncavallo, the composer of Pagliacci, had already begun work on в La Boheme when Puccini started his masterpiece on the same subject. Leoncavallo's Воheme is virtually forgotten, while Puccini's is one of the most frequently performed of all operas. However, both Manon treatments are still very much alive in the international repertoire (though Auber's, which preceded both of them, is exclusively a matter of historical record).

But when, in 1890, Puccini decided to undertake a version of Manon both he and Leoncavallo were poor and virtually unknown. True, Puccini had had two operas produced—Le villi and Edgar—but neither was a real success; and as for Leoncavallo, Pagliacci was two years off. It was Leoncavallo who wrote the first draft of a Manon libretto for Puccini; but it took two more years and five more men to bring it into final shape. And when the opera was finally performed, Puccini for the first time was acclaimed a great operatic composer. He was thirty-five at the time and was to have, with the exception of La rondine, almost nothing but successes thereafter.



Opera in four acts by Giacomo Puccini with libretto in Italian by Ruggiero Leoncavallo, Marco Praga, Domenico Oliva, Giuseppe Giacosa, Giulio Ricordi, and Luigi Illica, based on Les aventures du Chevalier des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut, by Аbbe Prevost


MANON LESCAUT, a girl of fifteen
LESCAUT, her brother

GERONTE DE RAVOIR, her aging suitor

EDMONDO, a student




Time: 18th century

Places: Amiens, Paris, Le Havre, Louisiana
First performance at Turin, February 1, 1893



Manon Lescaut:

Soprano. She is being taken by her brother to complete her education in a convent Calling at an inn en route, she meets the handsome Des Grieux and the wealthy Geronte, both of whom fall in 
love with her. She falls for Des Grieux and they run away and set up home together. Des Grieux's money runs out and Manon, hankering after a life of luxury, goes to live with Geronte, who lavishes gifts on her - but she remembers how happy she was with Des Grieux. Her brother visits her and she tells him how she wishes she was back with her true lover. Lescaut informs Des Grieux who comes for her. Keen as she is to leave with him, she is reluctant to leave behind all her jewels. The delay as she collects them is fatal—Geronte reports her to the police as a prostitute and she is arrested and put on a ship to be deported. Des Grieux manages to join her and he and Lescaut rescue her. They become lost in the desert, and Manon, exhausted, begs him to leave her and save himself. He tries to find water, but fails. As he returns to Manon, she is dying. Arias: Vedete? Io son fedele ('See, I am faithful to my word'); In quelle trine morbide C'ln those soft laces'); Sola, perduta, abbandota nata ('Alone, lost, abandoned'); duet (with Des Grieux): Cedi, son tua! ('Give in, I am yours!). Created (1893) by Cesira Ferrani.

Deborah Voigt - 1997 - Sola, perduta, abbandonata - Manon Lescaut


Baritone. Sergeant in the King's Guards. Brother who is escorting his sister to a convent where she is to complete her education. She runs away with Des Grieux, but when he loses all his money she leaves him and goes to her rich lover. Lescaut knows his sister is unhappy and tells Des Grieux where he can find her. As she is being deported as a prostitute, Lescaut helps Des Grieux to rescue her. Created (1893) by Achille Moro.

Chevalier Des Grieux:

Tenor. Drinking with his friends at the local inn, he falls in love with the young Manon Lescaut, who is being escorted by her brother to a convent to complete her education. She returns his feeling and they run away and set up home together. 
When he runs out of money, Manon returns to her older admirer, Geronte. Manon's brother tells Des Grieux she still loves him and he determines to find her again. She agrees to return to him, but insists on stopping to collect her jewellery. The delay results In her arrest as a prostitute. She is to be deported and Des Grieux begs the ship's captain to let him come on board to be with her. They escape from the ship and wander in the desert where Manon becomes weak and Des Grieux refuses to leave her, but goes to search for water. When he returns, Manon dies in his arms as he collapses next to her. Arias: Donna non vidi mai simile a questa! ('Never have I seen such a woman!'); Ah! non v'avvicinate! ('Ah! don't come any nearer!’). Created (1893) by Giuseppe Cremonini.

O Isis und Osiris (Sarastro's F-major aria) - Mihály Székely

Geronte di Ravoir:


Bass. Treasurer‐General in Amiens, a wealthy man. He is at once attracted by Manon when she stops at the inn on her way to a convent. He orders a carriage to take her to Paris, but she and Des Grieux have fallen in love and they use the carriage to elope. When Des Grieux's money runs out, Manon returns to Geronte, who lavishes money on her—a luxurious home in Paris and an abundance of jewels—but she is not happy and again leaves him to go with Des Grieux. Catching them together, Geronte summons the police and asks them to arrest Manon as a prostitute. Created (1893) by Alessandro Polonini.

Kaludi Kaludov - Ah! Non v'avvicinate!... No! no! Pazzo son!



Tenor. A student and friend of Des Grieux. Aria (with chorus of students): Ave, sera gentile (‘Hail, gentle evening’). Created (1893) by Roberto Ramini.

Erlind Zeraliu - Manon Lescaut - Edmondo' s Aria
(Ave Sera gentile)



The scene is the courtyard of an inn in the Frencn town of Amiens, and it's a very busy place. Students are all over it—drinking, gambling, flirting with the girls. Two of the students stand out particularly—one is Edmondo, an exceptionally lighthearted fellow, successful with the ladies, and the other is a more serious-minded young man named Des Grieux, who gets teased, in fact, by the others for his earnestness. Soon a coach arrives, and out of it come three important characters. One is a rich old aristocrat named Geronte, another is an army 0fficer named Lescaut, and the third is Lescant’s pretty sister, Manon, the heroine. Only fifteen, she is on her way to enter a convent. Her brother, a worldly youngster, thinks this is a waste of good looks. So apparently does Geronte, for the old fellow soon plots to abduct her and, in fact, arranges with the innkeeper to have a swift coach brought to the back of the inn for that very purpose.

Meantime, Manon's beauty has made quite an impression on everyone in the place, especially on Des Grieux, who introduces himself, asks her name and her plans, and demands that she should meet him secretly. In no time at all he is terribly in love and tells us so in a particularly fine aria, Donna non vidi max.

Now, the lighthearted student, Edmondo, has overheard everything that went on. He tells Des Grieux of Geronte's arrangement for the coach, and so it happens that when Manon comes out to keep her engagement with Des Grieux, the young fellow whisks her off before Geronte knows what has happened. Lescaut (who has been playing cards instead of guarding his sister) takes it all in stride. He tells Geronte that Des Grieux will never be able to support the pleasure- loving Manon in Paris, and that will be the time to step in and take over. On this very cynical note the first act ends.


As Lescaut predicted, Manon does not stay long with Des Grieux. He is too poor,and old Geronte has now got the girl and set her up in luxury, while Des Grieux, under Lescauf s guidance, has been trying to make money by cheating at cards. When the curtain rises, Manon is in her boudoir, making herself beautiful with the assistance of servants. Her brother visits her and learns that she is bored with this luxury: she yearns for Des Grieux. While they talk, a group of singers performs a madrigal which has been especially composed for her by old Geronte. A little later Geronte comes in with friends and with a dancing master for Manon. While she has a lesson, they all express their admiration, and she sings prettily to the tune of the Minuet.

At last, they all leave, and a distraught Des Grieux comes in. The lovers exchange reproaches—and also vows of eternal love. But at the height of the scene Geronte returns. He is at first ironically polite. But then Manon makes a mistake: she tells him why she prefers Des Grieux, and shows Geronte his wrinkled face in a mirror. Immediately the old гоue departs, uttering veiled threats. The lovers are about to fly, when Lescaut, out of breath, runs in to warn them that Geronte has denounced Manon, that she is about to be arrested, and that they must flee at once. But Manon takes too long gathering up her jewels, and before they can make good their escape, Geronte returns with officers of the law. Deportation is the fate in store for her, and, with Des Grieux crying protests, Manon is dragged off to jail.


Before the act opens, there is a short but very eloquent orchestral Intermezzo. When the curtain goes up, that busy conniver, Lescaut is telling Des Grieux that through bribery he has arranged an interview with Manon, and that soon he will have her free. The scene is at the harbor of Le Havre, where the ship waits to deport Manon and other girls like her. Manon appears at her prison window, and there is a brief, passionate love scene. But Lescaut's plans—as usual—miscarry. He has brought some men to carry Manon off from the guards, but a noise off-stage tells us that they have been routed. Now the Sergeant calls the roll of the girls to be deported, and they come onto the ship, one by one, as the crowd comments on them. Manon is among them, and in desperation Des Grieux appeals to the Captain of the ship to let him come along—as a servant or any other way—so long as he may be with his beloved. The Captain is touched by the aristocratic young fellow and gives his permission. Des Grieux rushes up the gangplank into the arms of his Manon, and the act closes.


Puccini's librettists placed the last act in a rather startling location. They wrote it like this: "Una landa sterminata sui confini del territorio della Nuova Orleans." In brief—a desert in New Orleans. But if we remember that the story takes place before the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, and that the territory included, roughly, all the land between the Mississippi and the Rockies, it is not quite so startling. Anyway —the geography of this act is rough and rugged. Manon and Des Grieux have arrived in America, and they have become lost in some desolate spot. Manon is clearly too ill to go much farther, and she tells Des Grieux so. She urges him to leave her and find help, which he does, and she sings her despairing aria Tutto dunque ё finito—"All is now over."

When Des Grieux returns without help, he finds a dying Manon. Tenderly he takes her into his arms,and tenderly they sing of their love. But Manon only grows weaker, and with a last effort she bids him farewell and dies.

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