ACT I. France, 1721. In the courtyard of an inn at Amiens, a crowd awaits arrival of the coach. Guillot, an elderly roué, and his wealthy friend Brétigny have ordered dinner for three actresses of easy virtue, Poussette, Javotte and Rosette; as they retire to a room, a young officer, Lescaut, comes to meet his cousin Manon, who is on her way to a convent. The coach soon arrives and with it Manon, who excitedly tells Lescaut about her first trip away from home. While he looks after her luggage, Guillot, calling for more wine, notices the pretty girl and flirts with her, but she only laughs at the elderly man's advances. Lescaut returns, and before joining friends at a gaming table he warns Manon about talking to strangers. To herself, she wistfully compares her own bland future with the pleasure-filled life of Guillot and his glamorous companions. The Chevalier Des Greiux arrives at the inn and, on seeing Manon, falls in love with her. Seizing this opportunity to escape the convent, Manon suggests that they run off to Paris in Guillot's coach. The tipsy old bon vivant, who had intended to abduct Manon himself, stumbles from the inn just in time to hurl curses after the escaping lovers.
ACT II. In their Paris apartment, Manon and Des Grieux read a letter he has written to his father describing his sweetheart and asking permission to marry her. When Des Grieux notices a bouquet of flowers Brétigny has sent to Manon, she tells him a lie to allay his suspicions of her loyalty. Lescaut and Brétigny arrive, the former to demand that Des Grieux marry Manon, the latter to tell the girl that Des Grieux is soon to be kidnapped by his irate father. The visitors depart, and Des Grieux goes off to send his letter. Left alone, Manon is unable to resist the temptation of luxury offered her by Brétigny and bids a poignant farewell to the life she has shared with Des Grieux. The young man returns, relating an idyllic vision of their future life together, but officers suddenly force their way into the room and abduct him.
ACT III. A holiday crowd fills a park at the Cours-la-Reine, where Poussette, Javotte and Rosette have eluded Guillot. Lescaut sentimentally addresses a pretty passerby as his beloved "Rosalinde," then generously offers her presents from the vendors' carts. Manon, surrounded by wealthy admirers, preens herself and sings a gavotte in praise of youth and pleasure. When Des Grieux' father, the Count, speaks with Brétigny, Manon overhears their conversation, learning that Des Grieux is about to take holy orders at the Church of St. Sulpice. She herself speaks to the Count and is piqued to hear that her former lover has grown cold to her charms. Manon rushes to St. Sulpice.
In the sacristy at St. Sulpice, some women describe the eloquence of the new abbé. Skeptical of his son's new virtue, the Count tries to persuade Des Grieux to abandon the church and marry a suitable girl. After the father leaves, Des Grieux prays for the strength to resist the memory of Manon. But Manon arrives, breaks his resolve with her ardor and persuades him to run away with her.
ACT IV. The Hôtel de Transylvanie, a notorious gambling house, is crowded with merrymakers, including Lescaut, Guillot and the three actresses. When Des Grieux arrives with Manon, she suggests that he recoup their sagging fortunes at the faro table. As the young man plays cards with Guillot, Manon and the actresses sing in praise of living for the moment. Guillot, losing every hand, accuses Des Grieux of cheating and goes off to summon the police; the authorities soon arrive and with them the Count Des Grieux, who rebukes his son but promises him that his arrest will be only temporary. Manon swoons as he is taken away.
ACT V. Manon is to be deported to Louisiana on charges of immorality. On the road to Le Havre, where she must pass, Des Grieux and Lescaut bribe the guards to release her. Manon, in the last stages of consumption, falls exhausted in her lover's arms. Des Grieux, though despairing, comforts her as, murmuring of their lost happiness, she dies.
by John W. Freeman
-- courtesy of Opera News