The activities in this guide address several aspects of Manon Lescaut:
- Puccini’s rich, complex exploration of the nature of love
- the growth of the central character across the opera’s four acts
- Puccini’s use of dramatic structure and music to support character and plot development
- the opera as a work of art, involving a wide range of creative decisions by the composer, the librettist, and the artists of the Metropolitan Opera
The guide seeks not only to acquaint students with Manon Lescaut, but also to encourage them to think more broadly about opera—and the performing arts in general—as means of personal and philosophical expression. Little prior knowledge is required for the activities.
Silly Love Songs?
No matter how you look at it, Manon Lescaut is a love story. That doesn’t make it a simple affair. As the opera unfolds, the word “love” comes to mean diff erent things for different characters at different times. In Act I Manon herself never utters the word, but des Grieux does, and often. In Act II, the situation reverses: it’s Manon who speaks repeatedly of love, with only an occasional echo from des Grieux. Later, the situation changes yet again. In this activity, students will look closely at the sounds and senses of “love” in Manon Lescaut. They will:
identify and characterize Puccini’s uses of the word “love”
construct understandings of the various types of love Puccini depicts
consider the role specifi c word choices make in the overall structure of a literary work
become acquainted with key characters, their relationships, and some of the music in Manon Lescaut in advance of The Met: Live in HD transmission.
The Education of Manon Lescaut
It has been observed that Puccini’s version of Manon Lescaut is less a coherent narrative than a set of scenes from the tempestuous life of one 18th-century woman. This activity approaches that aspect of the opera as a virtue. Students will take a close look at Manon’s “education”—the experiences that affect her life and demeanor across the course of the opera. The approach can be adapted to the concerns of diff erent subject areas: in social studies classrooms, students might apply knowledge of women’s social position two centuries ago to the particulars of Manon’s story, while language arts classes may concentrate on the methods of developing a character in fiction. All students will:
observe the techniques Puccini employs to present Manon as a living, changing, fully human character;
consider the complex motivations, perspectives, and feelings which influence Manon’s choices and behaviors;
imagine alternative “futures” for characters in the opera;
acquaint themselves with some of the music in Manon Lescaut in advance of the Met’s Live in HD transmission.