Manon Lescaut Synopsis

The later 18th century. 

In a square in Amiens, students gather to sing and flirt with girls. Edmondo, their charismatic leader, tries to get his reserved friend Des Grieux to open up. A coach arrives, and the crowd gathers around to see who is inside: out comes an elderly treasurer, Geronte; the soldier Lescaut, and Lescaut’s beautiful sister Manon. Des Grieux is immediately smitten with her. However, she is already on her way to a convent, as per her father’s demands. He offers to help Manon, and asks if she can meet him in private later. Manon reluctantly agrees.

Meanwhile, Geronte is also fixated on Manon. When Lescaut is distracted by a card game, Geronte plots with an innkeeper to arrange a coach at the inn that night so he can abduct her and take her for himself. Edmondo overhears this, and tells des Grieux about it, offering to help him and Manon.

Manon meets with des Grieux outside [the inn as promised. He tells her of Geronte’s plot, and persuades her to run off with him. Edmondo gets ahold of the coach Geronte arranged, and Manon and des Grieux leave just as Geronte arrives to try and abduct her. As Edmondo mocks Geronte, Lescaut is unfettered: Manon and des Grieux will run out of money soon, he reasons, and from there they can get her back.

Just as Lescaut anticipated, Manon does not stay with des Grieux for long once he runs out of money. In the time between acts, she has become Geronte’s mistress. Lescaut visits her and learns that Manon is bored with this new life, and she misses des Grieux. Musicians hired by Geronte play a madrigal (composed by Geronte). They dance a minuet, and Manon sings a gavotte. Once she is done, everyone finally leaves, and Lescaut goes in search of des Grieux for his sister.

However, he is a bit late for that; des Grieux appears in the house on his own. At first they argue over Manon having previously left him, then they reconcile with vows of eternal love. Unexpectedly, Geronte returns. At first he is uncharacteristically polite, reminding Manon of all the things he’s given her, but then Manon shows him the reason she cannot love him: his own face in the mirror. He leaves immediately in a furor, vowing . Lescaut arrives and urges the lovers to leave as fast as they can. Geronte has denounced Manon and unless they escape soon she is going to be arrested. Manon delays their escape by going to grab all her jewels, and the soldiers take this opportunity to arrest her. She is dragged away as des Grieux cries in protest.

Lescaut has bribed a jailer to allow des Grieux to talk with Manon. When the passionate lovers reunite, she tells him she is going to be deported to Louisiana. Lescaut attempts to arrange a prison escape, but the plan goes awry, and the Sergeant arrives to escort the women onto a ship to America. One by one they are called up as the crowd comments on them, Manon among the group. Des Grieux, despairing at the thought of his love disappearing, appeals to the Captain. He doesn’t care if he is to be a servant, or a cabin boy- he will do anything to be on the ship with Manon. The Captain is touched, and allows him to board the ship with her.

Manon and des Grieux have arrived in America, and have become lost in the desert while attempting to seek refuge. Manon is too ill to go much farther, and begs des Grieux to find water for her. As he goes off in search, Manon remarks on her fear of death and her bitter fate. Des Grieux, unable to find water, returns to find that Manon is dying. She gives him a farewell, telling him he must forgive her- her faults will be forgotten, but her love for him is eternal. She dies in his arms as the curtains fall.

Written by Ursula Sturgeon

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