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Opera by Jules Massenet
Geraldine Farrar in the title role
Based onManon Lescaut
by Abbé Prévost
19 January 1884 (1884-01-19)

Manon (French pronunciation: [manɔ̃]) is an opéra comique in five acts by Jules Massenet to a French libretto by Henri Meilhac and Philippe Gille, based on the 1731 novel L'histoire du chevalier des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut by the Abbé Prévost. It was first performed at the Opéra-Comique in Paris on 19 January 1884, with sets designed by Eugène Carpezat (act 1), Auguste Alfred Rubé and Philippe Chaperon (acts 2 and 3), and Jean-Baptiste Lavastre (act 4).

Prior to Massenet's work, Halévy (Manon Lescaut, ballet, 1830) and Auber (Manon Lescaut, opéra comique, 1856) had used the subject for musical stage works. Massenet also wrote a one-act sequel to Manon, Le portrait de Manon (1894), involving the Chevalier des Grieux as an older man.[1]

The composer worked at the score of Manon at his country home outside Paris and also at a house at The Hague once occupied by Prévost himself.[2]

Manon is Massenet's most popular and enduring opera and, having "quickly conquered the world's stages",[3] it has maintained an important place in the repertory since its creation. It is the quintessential example of the charm and vitality of the music and culture of the Parisian Belle Époque. In 1893 an opera by Giacomo Puccini entitled Manon Lescaut, and based on the same novel was premiered and has also become popular.

Performance history[edit]

"Gathering around a score" by Charles Baude (1853–1935) shows Massenet rehearsing Manon with Sibyl Sanderson in Pierre Loti's drawing room. It was used as the cover of Le Théâtre in July 1889.

The opera was a mainstay of the Opéra-Comique in Paris, reaching its 1,000th performance there in 1919, its 1,500th in 1931 and 2,000th in 1952.[4]

The first Manon was Marie Heilbron; other noted interpreters include Sibyl Sanderson (Massenet's personal favorite), Fanny Heldy, Lucrezia Bori, Amelita Galli-Curci, Bidu Sayão, Victoria de los Ángeles, Anna Moffo, Beverly Sills, Edita Gruberová, Renée Fleming, Anna Netrebko, and Natalie Dessay. Due to its heavy vocal demands, the role of Manon was described by Sills as "the French Isolde". As famous interpreters of Des Grieux, Kobbé lists Edmond Clément, Enrico Caruso, Beniamino Gigli, Tito Schipa and Ferruccio Tagliavini; Wolff also lists Gaston Micheletti, Adolphe Maréchal, Charles Fontaine and Libero de Luca.

Within a year of its Paris premiere, Manon was given its UK premiere in January 1885, in Liverpool; in the US, the Academy of Music in New York presented the opera later the same year, on 23 December.[3] At the Royal Opera House in London it was first presented 19 May 1891.[5] The Metropolitan Opera gave its first staging on 16 January 1895, and Manon has subsequently often been performed there. Anna Netrebko starred in a new production directed by Laurent Pelly, a co-production with the Royal Opera House, which was simulcast in HD on 7 April 2012.[6] The San Francisco Opera gave the opera many stagings beginning on 29 September 1924.[7]

In the 1980s a piano score was discovered where spoken dialogue was set as recitative by Massenet, possibly for the Italian premiere; this version was performed at the Opéra de Saint-Etienne as part of the 2009 Massenet Festival.[8]

Today, Manon is frequently performed.[9]

The ballet L'histoire de Manon by Kenneth MacMillan, although using music entirely written by Massenet, does not include any from Manon.[10]


Dmitri Smirnov as Le Chevalier des Grieux (1909, by Aleksandr Golovin)
Role Voice type Premiere Cast, 19 January 1884
(Conductor: Jules Danbé)
Manon Lescaut soprano Marie Heilbron
Le Chevalier des Grieux tenor Jean-Alexandre Talazac
Lescaut, Manon's cousin baritone Émile-Alexandre Taskin
Le Comte des Grieux, the Chevalier's father bass Cobalet
Guillot de Morfontaine tenor Pierre Grivot
Monsieur de Brétigny baritone Collin
Poussette, an actress soprano Zoé Molé-Truffier
Javotte, an actress mezzo-soprano Esther Chevalier
Rosette, an actress mezzo-soprano Remy
Innkeeper bass Labis
A porter tenor Legrand
A sergeant baritone Étienne Troy
Guardsmen, Townsfolk, Travellers,
Hawkers, Congregation, Gamblers, Soldiers


Place: France
Time: the reign of Louis XV

Act 1[edit]

The courtyard of an inn at Amiens

De Brétigny, a nobleman, has just arrived, in the company of Guillot, an aging rake who is the Minister of Finance, along with three flirtatious young actresses. While the innkeeper is serving dinner to the party, the townspeople collect to witness the arrival of the coach from Arras. Among them is Lescaut, a guardsman, who tells his comrades that he plans to meet a kinswoman. The coach appears, and among the crowd Lescaut quickly identifies his fragile young cousin, Manon, who appears to be somewhat confused ("Je suis encor tout étourdie") since this is her first journey, one which is taking her to the convent.

Manon is accosted by the opportunistic Guillot, who tells her that he has a carriage waiting, in which they can leave together. His heavy-handed seduction is undermined by the return of Lescaut, who then lectures the young woman ("Regardez-moi bien dans les yeux") on proper behavior. He leaves her unattended once more and she admires the three fashionably-dressed actresses, but reproaches herself ("Voyons, Manon"), unconvincingly vowing to rid herself of all worldly visions.

Des Grieux, traveling home to see his father, catches sight of Manon, and instantly falls in love. When he approaches, she is charmed by his chivalrous address ("Et je sais votre nom"), and their exchange rapidly becomes a mutual avowal of love. Both their planned journeys, hers to the convent and des Grieux's to his home, are swiftly abandoned, as they decide to flee together ("Nous vivrons à Paris"). But there are hints of incompatible aspirations: while he returns, over and again, to "tous les deux" (together), the phrase she fondly repeats is, "à Paris". Making good use of the carriage provided by the disappointed Guillot, the lovers escape.

Act 2[edit]

Manon and des Grieux's apartment in Paris

With little hope, des Grieux writes to his father, imploring permission to marry Manon. Lescaut enters intent on creating a scene and accompanied by de Brétigny, who is masquerading as a fellow-guardsman. But his concern for offended family honor is only camouflage for his alliance with his friend. Trying to prove his honorable intentions, des Grieux shows Lescaut the letter to his father. Meanwhile, de Brétigny warns Manon that des Grieux is going to be abducted that evening, on the orders of his father, and offers her his protection and wealth, trying to persuade her to move on to a better future.

After the two visitors depart, Manon appears to vacillate between accepting de Brétigny's offer and warning des Grieux. When her lover goes out to post his letter, her farewell to the humble domesticity she has shared ("Adieu, notre petite table") makes clear she has decided to go with de Brétigny. Unaware of her change of heart, des Grieux returns and conveys his more modest vision of their future happiness ("En fermant les yeux", the "Dream Song"). Going outside to investigate an apparent disturbance, he is seized and hustled away, leaving Manon to voice her regrets.

Act 3[edit]

Scene 1: Paris, the promenade of the Cours-la-Reine on a feast-day

Among the throng of holiday-makers and vendors of all kinds are Lescaut and Guillot, the latter still flirting with the young actresses, while Lescaut expresses the joys of gambling ("À quoi bon l'économie?"). De Brétigny arrives, soon joined by Manon, now sumptuously dressed and with a retinue of admirers. She sings about her new situation ("Je marche sur tous les chemins"), following it with a gavotte ("Obéissons quand leur voix appelle") on the joys of love and youth.

Des Grieux's father, the Comte, greets de Brétigny and Manon overhears that her former lover is Chevalier no longer, but Abbé, having entered the seminary of Saint-Sulpice. Approaching the Comte, Manon tries to discover whether his son still loves her. Guillot then attempts to win Manon over by bringing the ballet dancers of the Académie Royale de Musique, which she had expressed a desire to see. However Manon is seized by the desire to see des Grieux once more, and admits, to Guillot's annoyance when asked, that she paid no attention to the dancers. She hurries off to Saint-Sulpice.

Scene 2: Saint-Sulpice

From the chapel, the congregation is leaving, enthusiastic over the sermon of the new abbé ("Quelle éloquence!"). Des Grieux enters, in clerical garb, and his father adds his voice to the chorus of praise, but tries to dissuade his son from this new life, so that he can perpetuate the family name ("Epouse quelque brave fille").

He leaves, having failed to shake his son's resolve and, alone, des Grieux relives memories of Manon ("Ah! Fuyez, douce image"). As he prays, Manon herself appears, to implore his forgiveness for her faithlessness. Furiously, he attempts to reject her, but when (in "N'est-ce plus ma main?") she recalls their past intimacies, his resistance is overcome, and their voices join in an impassioned avowal of love.

American soprano Sibyl Sanderson as Manon in 1888

Act 4[edit]

A gaming salon at the Hôtel de Transylvanie

Lescaut and Guillot are among the gamblers, and the three young actresses are prepared to attach themselves to any winner. Manon arrives with des Grieux who declares his total love: ("Manon! Manon! Sphinx étonnant"). He is persuaded to gamble, in hopes of gaining the wealth she craves. He plays at cards with Guillot and continually wins, as Guillot doubles and redoubles the wager. As Manon exults, Guillot accuses des Grieux of cheating. Des Grieux denies the charge and Guillot leaves, returning shortly with the police, to whom he denounces des Grieux as a cheat and Manon as dissolute.

The elder des Grieux enters, and tells his son that, while he will intercede on his behalf, he will do nothing to save Manon. In a big ensemble, with Guillot exulting over his revenge, Manon lamenting the end of all joy, des Grieux swearing to defend her, and the rest expressing consternation and horror, the arrested pair are led away.

Act 5[edit]

[Act 4, Scene 2 in the original version]

A desolate spot near the road to Le Havre

Convicted as a woman of ill-fame, Manon has been condemned to be deported. Des Grieux, freed by his father's intervention, and a penitent Lescaut, now his ally, wait to waylay the convoy in which Manon is being marched to the port. A detachment of soldiers arrives with their prisoners. The would-be rescuers recognize the hopelessness of attacking so strong an escort, but Lescaut succeeds in bribing their sergeant to allow Manon to stay behind till evening. The convoy moves on, and a sick and exhausted Manon falls to the ground at des Grieux's feet.

In his arms, near delirium, she relives their former happiness. Des Grieux tells her the past can exist again but Manon, now calm, knows that it is too late. With the words "Et c'est là l'histoire de Manon Lescaut", she dies.

Noted arias[edit]

  • Act 1 – Manon: "Je suis encore tout étourdie" ("I am still completely dazed")
  • Act 2 – des Grieux: "En fermant les yeux" ("Closing my eyes")
  • Act 2 – Manon: "Adieu, notre petite table" ("Goodbye, our little table")
  • Act 3 – Manon: "Obéissons quand leur voix appelle" ("Let us obey when their voice calls us")
  • Act 3 – des Grieux: "Ah, fuyez douce image" ("Ah, flee, sweet image")


Year Cast
des Grieux,
Comte des Grieux)
Opera house and orchestra
1923 Fanny Heldy,
Jean Marny,
Léon Ponzio,
Pierre Dupré
Henri Büsser
Orchestra and Chorus of the Opéra-Comique
CD: Malibran Music
Cat: MR 558
CD: Marston[12] 52003-2
1928–29 Germaine Féraldy,
Joseph Rogatchewsky,
Georges Villier,
Louis Guénot
Élie Cohen
Orchestra and Chorus of the Opéra-Comique
CD: Naxos «Historical»
Cat: 8.110203-04
1937 Bidu Sayão,
Sydney Rayner,
Richard Bonelli,
Chase Baromeo
Maurice Abravanel
Metropolitan Opera Orchestra
CD: Naxos «Historical»
Cat: 8.110003-5
1951 Janine Micheau,
Libero de Luca,
Roger Bourdin,
Julien Giovanetti
Albert Wolff
Orchestra and Chorus of the Opéra-Comique
CD: Preiser Records
Cat: 20013
1955 Victoria de los Ángeles,
Henri Legay,
Michel Dens,
René Hérent
Jean Borthayre
Pierre Monteux
Orchestra and Chorus of the Opéra-Comique
Cat: 63549/ Naxos «Historical»
Cat: 8.111268-70
1969 Mirella Freni,
Luciano Pavarotti,
Rolando Panerai,
Antonio Zerbini
Peter Maag
Teatro alla Scala di Milano
(live performance)
CD: Opera d'Oro
Cat: OPD-1270
1970 Beverly Sills,
Nicolai Gedda,
Gérard Souzay,
Gabriel Bacquier
Julius Rudel
Ambrosian Opera Chorus
New Philharmonia Orchestra
Cat: 474 950-2
1982 Ileana Cotrubaș,
Alfredo Kraus,
Gino Quilico,
José van Dam
Michel Plasson
Chorus and Orchestra of the Capitole de Toulouse
CD: Angel
Cat: 49610
1999 Angela Gheorghiu,
Roberto Alagna,
Earle Patriarco,
José van Dam
Antonio Pappano
Chorus and Orchestra of the Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie
Cat: 81842
2001 Renée Fleming,
Marcelo Álvarez,
Jean-Luc Chaignaud,
Alain Vernhes
Jesús López-Cobos
Chorus and Orchestra of the Opéra National de Paris
(Audio and video recordings of performances at the Opéra Bastille, June/July)
CD: Sony
S3K 90458
DVD (Video): TDK «Mediactive»
2007 Anna Netrebko,
Rolando Villazón,
Alfredo Daza,
Christof Fischesser
Daniel Barenboim
Staatskapelle Berlin and Berlin State Opera Chorus
DVD: Deutsche Grammophon
Cat: 073 4431
2007 Natalie Dessay,
Rolando Villazón,
Manuel Lanza,
Samuel Ramey
Victor Pablo Pérez
Symphony Orchestra and Chorus of the Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona
DVD: Virgin Classics
Cat: 5050689 7



  1. ^ Harding 1970, p. 116.
  2. ^ Harding 1970, pp. 75–76.
  3. ^ a b Macdonald 2001, p. 544.
  4. ^ Wolff 1953, pp. 113–114.
  5. ^ Royal Opera House archive data base
  6. ^ Manon at the Met Opera Archive.
  7. ^ San Francisco opera's online database
  8. ^ Laurent Bury, "Jean-Louis Pichon: 'Je pense avoir fait évoluer le regard des gens sur Massenet'", Interview with Jean-Louis Pichon, 9 November 2011, on forumopera.com. Accessed 10 August 2014.
  9. ^ E.g. performances listed on operabase.com
  10. ^ Bland 1981, p.[page needed]
  11. ^ Recordings of Manon on operadis-opera-discography.org.uk
  12. ^ According to James Camner in Fanfare vol. 21, no. 3 (Jan/Feb 1998): "Due to an earlier, imprecise transfer of this 1923 recording to LP, Fanny Heldy's performance as Manon has been called shrill, but through the corrective, uncannily accurate work of Ward Marston, we now hear why the beautiful Belgian soprano was the idol of Paris."


  • Bland, Alexander (1981). The Royal Ballet: The First 50 Years. London: Threshold Books. ISBN 978-0-901366-11-5.
  • Harding, James (1970). Massenet. London: Dent. ISBN 978-0-460-03928-4.
  • Holden, Amanda, editor (2001). The New Penguin Opera Guide, New York: Penguin Putnam. ISBN 0-14-029312-4.
  • Kobbé, Gustav (1976). The Complete Opera Book. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, pp. 858–864. ISBN 978-0-399-14332-8.
  • Macdonald, Hugh (2001). "Jules Massenet" in Holden 2001, pp. 542-554.
  • Wolff, Stéphane (1953). Un demi-siècle d'Opéra-Comique (1900–1950). Paris: André Bonne. Listings at WorldCat.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]