Manon Synopsis: The Story of Jules Massenet's Opera

Patrizia Ciofi and Sébastien Gueze in Manon
Yvonnelise/Wikimedia Commons/(CC BY-SA 4.0) 

Composer: Jules Massenet

Premiered: Jan. 19, 1884 - Paris, ​France - Opéra-Comique Theatre

Other Popular Opera Synopses:

Setting: Massenet's Manon takes place in France during the 18th century under the reign of Louis XV.

The Story of "Manon"

"Manon" ACT 1
Inside the busy courtyard of an inn at Amiens, a nobleman named De Brétigny arrives with the Minister of Finance, Guillot, an aging old man. They are also accompanied by three beautiful, young actresses. The innkeeper is hosting a fine dinner, and De Brétigny orders his flirtatious actresses dinner. After they retire to their bedrooms, Officer Lescaut arrives at the inn to meet his cousin, Manon, who is leaving her family home for the first time in order to join a convent. Lescaut is there to escort her. Manon's carriage arrives moments later. As he attends to her luggage, Guillot captures a glimpse of the beautiful young woman. Having drunk plenty of wine, he calls out to Manon and starts to flirt with her. He invites her to leave with him instead, but she kindly refuses him. Lescaut returns but lectures her in the proper ways a young lady such as her should behave. Lescaut leaves her alone once more as his friends call him over to a gambling table. Manon eyes the three lovely actresses and longs for their exciting life. She ponders them for a moment before convincing herself it is nothing but worldly visions. She's resolved to her life in the convent.

A hopeless romantic and young chevalier named des Grieux, on his trip to reunite with his father, makes a stop at the inn. After briefly stepping inside, he quickly takes notice of Manon and instantly falls in love. He approaches her and she falls head over heels for him. Looking to escape her predestined life as a nun, she suggests they run away together to Paris using the old man Guillot's coach. Without thinking, the two lovers make their getaway.

"Manon" ACT 2
Some time has now passed, and Manon and des Grieux have purchased an apartment in Paris. des Grieux has written a letter to his father asking for permission to marry Manon. As the two read the letter aloud, Lescaut and De Brétigny, who is disguised as a guardsman, arrive. Lescaut has secretly conspired with De Brétigny. Lescaut tells Manon she should marry des Grieux as he's concerned for their family honor. des Grieux shows Lescaut the letter to his father to prove his intentions are true, while De Brétigny pulls Manon aside to tell her that des Grieux's father has sent men to abduct des Grieux. He tells her that he can give her protection and great wealth, and promises of a better future. When the two men leave, Manon is torn. Should she go with De Brétigny and live a life of luxury or stay with des Grieux and face family problems? Her decision is made when she does not tell des Grieux of his impending abduction. He travels out to the post to send his letter, unaware of his lover's seemingly heartless decision. When he returns (after having sung of a wonderful future life with Manon), he finds Manon missing. He rushes outside to investigate a noise but is captured by the officers his own father hired.

"Manon" ACT 3
It's now a holiday, and many people are gathered at the promenade of the Cours-la-Reine in Paris. Lescaut and Guillot are in attendance. As Lescaut voices his love of gambling, Guillot resumes his relentless flirtations with the three young actresses. De Brétigny arrives with Manon, who, dressed in the latest couture gown, is surrounded by many admirers. By the looks of things, Manon is quite content with her new-found status. des Grieux's father is also in attendance and speaks with De Brétigny. Concerned, Manon eavesdrops on their conversation and learns that de Grieux has joined the seminary of Saint-Sulpice. Manon approaches des Grieux's father and asks him questions, hoping to learn if des Grieux still loves her. Meanwhile, Guillot has turned his attention on Manon once more and arranges for the ballet dancers of the Académie Royale de Musique to perform for her. After their performance, she admits to Guillot that she was too distracted to pay any attention to the dancers. Once again, Guillot fails to win over Manon, and she rushes off to the seminary.

After giving a stirring sermon, an excited church congregation is seen exiting the chapel. des Grieux's father arrives to persuade him to change his mind, leave the church, and marry another woman. After several unsuccessful attempts, he finally leaves des Grieux alone to his new life as an abbé. Now alone, des Grieux prays to forget his memory of Manon, but his efforts are in vain. No sooner than he starts to pray, she arrives to seek his forgiveness. He tries to deny her, but after she sings of their wonderful past memories, he gives in to her. Again, they vow their love for one another.

"Manon" ACT 4
At the Hôtel de Transylvanie, Lescaut and Guillot are making the best of the hotel's gambling house. Within the lively crowd, the three actresses are still denying Guillot's advances. Now knowing her true heart and desires, des Grieux lets Manon convince him to gamble in order to amass great wealth. des Grieux sits at the card table with Guillot and wins every hand. Guillot accuses him of cheating, but des Grieux vehemently denies. Still, Guillot rushes out to call the police, and soon they arrive to arrest him. His father arrives too and tells him that his arrest will only be temporary, but he will do nothing to save Manon.

"Manon" ACT 5
Des Grieux's father has freed him from his arrest, but Manon has been convicted of immorality and sentenced to deportation. Des Grieux and Lescaut wait outside for Manon's convoy to pass. After seeing the burly size of her captor, they decide that taking her by force is not an option. Instead, Lescaut bribes the man into releasing her. After complying, Manon is released to them. She falls at des Grieux's feet; she's exhausted and ill. Now in the final stages of consumption, she relives her past memories with des Grieux before passing away in his arms.