Manon Lescaut begins with only the briefest introductory orchestral music. And later, Puccini tells us little of the time between Manon’s escape from Amiens at the end of Act I and her residence in Geronte’s home at the start of Act II. Between Acts II and III, however, he describes Manon’s voyage from Paris to the prison at Le Havre in a magnifi cent instrumental movement, the Intermezzo.
The Intermezzo borrows many themes from Acts I and II, some in harmonic variations, some with different instrumentation, some with rhythmic changes. A particularly clear example involves the opening bar of an Act II aria in which des Grieux affi rms his unquenchable love for Manon, “Nell’occhio tuo profondo, io leggo il mio destin”—in the depths of your eyes, I read my destiny—Track 36.
Track 37 begins toward the end of the Intermezzo. The musical voyage is approaching its end when, following a patch of rather stormy, unsettled melody, a fragile voicing of the “nell’occhio” love theme emerges from the flute section. The rest of the orchestra tries to pick it up, but the theme goes sour, crushed in the pounding of timpani against a wall of strings. Then, as if by miracle, the theme rises again, gentle but full and determined. With it, Puccini brings the Intermezzo to an almost hopeful resolution—just as we arrive in Le Havre to fi nd Manon in chains.