About this work
Auber wrote his Manon Lescaut, an opera-comique in three acts, in 1856, when he was 74 years of age. The score has the freshness, inventiveness, and vigor of youth, but all the skill and sophistication learned from his many years of experience as a composer. It is a brilliant, passionate, lyrical work. The orchestrations are rich, the harmonies striking, the delightful, elegant French melodies often written to lilting and lively dance rhythms, and graced with ecstatic or tasteful vocal fioritura. There are numerous highlights to the score, but the dramatic climax is the death of Manon, which is filled with symphonic grandeur. Throughout the third act, Auber builds his orchestrations until the opening of the final scene when he presents us with an orchestral overture richly complex and dramatically intense. Mysterious and ominous string pizzicati answer portentous harmonies in the winds and brass. The orchestral music develops into eloquent accompanied recitative as Manon and Des Grieux struggle with death in the deserts of Louisiana. Manon's ecstatic love-death rivals Wagner's in expressiveness, but in the beautiful idiom of the French opera-comique.
The libretto to Manon was written by Eugene Scribe, the premier French librettist of the nineteenth century, and a long time collaborator of Auber. Scribe and Auber met in the 1820s. They became close friends, and over the years wrote many successful operas together. The story is an adaptation of a novel by the Abbe Prevost, and Auber and Scribe were the first to turn the story into an opera. Although Scribe's libretto dispenses with or changes many elements of the story, it is faithful to the character of the original, and Auber's score communicates the passions and loves of Manon in number after number.