Act I. Scene I: The courtyard of an inn near Paris – The courtyard at the inn is frequented by actresses, gentlemen and the demi-monde from Paris. Among them are Des Grieux, a young student, the wealthy Monsieur G.M. and Lescaut, who is there to meet his sister Manon on her way to enter a convent. A coach arrives bringing Manon and an Old Gentleman who has been very much attracted by her. Lescaut notices this and takes the Old Gentleman into the inn to come to an arrangement with him over Manon. Manon remains outside and meets Des Grieux. They fall in love and decide to escape to Paris with the help of the money that she has stolen from the Old Gentleman. Lescaut and the Old Gentleman come out of the inn, having made a bargain, and to their dismay see that Manon has disappeared. Monsieur G.M. tells Lescaut the he too is interested in Manon and because of G.M.’s wealth Lescaut promises to find Manon and persuade her to accept G.M.
Act I. Scene II: Des Grieux’s lodgings in Paris – Des Grieux is writing a letter to his father but Manon interrupts him by declaring her love for him. Des Grieux goes to post the letter and in his absence Lescaut arrives with Monsieur G.M. Manon yields to G.M.’s advances. When Des Grieux returns, Lescaut persuades him that there will be great wealth for all of them if he, Des Grieux, will sanction the liaison between Manon and G.M.
Act II. Scene I: A Party at the hotel Particulier of Madame – Manon arrives at the party given by Monsieur G.M. and is clearly torn between the wealth of her companion and her love for Des Grieux, who is also there with Lescaut. Des Grieux tries to persuade Manon to leave with him but she tells him that the time is not right and only will be when he takes more of Monsieur G.M.’s money at cards. Des Grieux is caught cheating and he and Manon rush away.
Act II. Scene II: Des Grieux’s lodgings – Manon and Des Grieux once again declare their love for one another but Monsieur G.M. arrives with the police and Manon is arrested as a prostitute. In the ensuing struggle Lescaut is killed.
Act III. Scene I: The Port – The Jailer of the Penal Colony awaits the arrival of the convicts from France. Manon has been deported to America as a prostitute and Des Grieux has followed her there by pretending to be her husband. The Jailer turns his interest towards Manon.
Act III. Scene II: The Jailer’s room – The Jailer has arrested Manon but offers her rewards in the hope that she will desert Des Grieux and live with him. Des Grieux, however, breaks in and kills the Jailer.
Act III. Scene III: The Swamp – Manon and Des Grieux have escaped into the swamp of Louisiana. All her former ambitions of wealth and splendor have been renounced for her love of Des Grieux. While eluding their pursuers Manon collapses and dies in his arms.
The music for Manon by Jules Massenet is taken from the operas Le Cid, Griselda, Therese, Cinderella, Cleopatre, Don Quixote, Eve, Thais, Bacchus, Ariane, and Le Roi de Lahore, the orchestral works Scenes Alsaciennes, Scenes Pittoresques, Scenes Dramatique, La Navarraise, Valse tres Lente, Chanson de Capri, and Aubade de Cherubin.
The music for the Prelude to the ballet is from Le Dernier Sommeil de la Vierge and the Cantata de la Vierge. The score for Act I, Scene I is derived from Aubade de Cherubin, Scenes Dramatique, Scenes Pittoresques, Le Cid, Crepuscule, Pastorale from L’Esclaramonde, First Orchestral Suite, Scenes Dramatiques, Si tu le Veux, Mignonne — a song, Griselda, Thais, Ariane, Elegie, Menuet d’Amour from Therese. Act I, Scene II: Cendrillon, Ouvre tes Yeux Bleus — a song, Cendrillon, and a salon piece.
Act II, Scene I: Scenes Dramatiques, Au Cabaret — Scenes Alsaciennes, Ariane, Bacchus, a salon piece, Don Quixote, Cleopatre, Le Roi de Lahore, Crepuscule, Air de Ballet, La Navarraise, Elegie, Il Pluvait — a song, Griselda, Cleopatre. Scene II: Adam and Eve, Bacchus.
Act III, Scene I: Cendrillon, Griselda, Don Quixote, Cendrillon, Don Quixote, Don Quixote, Crepuscule, Sappho and Adam and Eve. Scene II: Symposium of hallucinations. Scene III: La Vierge, La Vierge.