• Manon Classroom Activity

The activities in this guide address various aspects of Manon:

  • the personality of the title character
  • the opera’s subtle use of the psychology of memory
  • the roguish men and women who populate the story
  • Manon Lescaut as a recurring figure in the history of opera
  • Massenet’s decision to create a new version of an established literary property the production as a unified work of art, involving creative decisions by the artists of the Metropolitan Opera

The guide is intended to cultivate students’ interest in Manon whether or not they have any prior acquaintance with opera. It includes activities for students with a wide range of musical backgrounds, seeking to encourage them to think about opera—and the performing arts in general—as a medium of entertainment and as creative expression.

“And That’s the Story of Manon Lescaut”:
A Close Look at Manon and the Psychology of Memory

Toward the end of Manon, Massenet and his librettists wrote a striking bit of music and text for their title character. In a few short lines, as her life is drawing to a close, Manon recalls past events. As it happens, the audience has witnessed these events, though they may not recall them in the same happy way Manon does. In this activity, students will use the juxtaposition of witnessing and remembering an event as a springboard for reflection on the imperfections in memory—a topic of great interest to psychologists and neuroscientists. They will:

  • become acquainted with key events in the story of Manon
  • compare a character’s memories with his or her actual behavior
  • participate in a class discussion, expressing personal points of view and citing evidence
  • assess the correspondences between the depiction of memory in Manon and contemporary scientific concepts of it
  • propose alternative memories that Massenet, Meilhac, and Gille might have attributed to characters in the opera