Opera Scotland

Boulevard Solitude

Music

Hans Werner Henze (born Gütersloh, 1 July 1926; died Dresden, 27 October 2012)

Text

Grete Weil

Source

Novel by Walter Jockisch, derived from Manon Lescaut (1731) by Abbé Prévost.

 

Premieres

First Performance: Hanover (Landestheater), 17 February 1952.

First Performance in UK: London (Sadler's Wells Theatre), 25 June 1962.

First Performance in Scotland: Glasgow (Theatre Royal), 21 March 1977.

Scottish Opera premiere: n/a.

 

Background

When Henze's first opera opened in 1952 few could have predicted what an important career he would have, and what a crucial part the arguably defunct art form of opera would take in that career. The seemingly trendy updating of the Manon story to late 1940s Paris works remarkably well, in a short and highly dramatic scheme - with Lescaut as little more than a thug, cheerfully betraying his sister to shield his own murderous activities, while Armand descends into drug-fuelled despair. The musical idiom also works well, with the expected elements of Bergian modernism shot through with a lively jazz and cabaret-style sound-world.

Its first performances in Britain were by the New Opera Company at Sadler's Wells in 1962. The Scottish premiere came with the visit of the Stuttgart Opera to Glasgow in 1977, in an excellent staging directed by the composer. We had to wait until the new century for further British interest, with a production at Covent Garden (2001) followed by an attempt at Welsh National in 2014. This was directed by David Pountney, who had no doubt familiarised himself with the Stuttgart version during his years working in Glasgow.

 

Main Characters

Manon Lescaut (soprano)

Lescaut, her brother (baritone)

Armand des Grieux, a poor student (tenor)

Lilaque père, a wealthy gentleman (high tenor)

Lilaque fils, his son (baritone)

 

Plot Summary

Manon, on her way to finishing school in Lausanne, meets Armand at a railway station. He is a lonely student on his way to Paris and she runs off with him. He gives up his studies and his allowance is cut off by his father. Their life of poverty is interrupted when Lescaut offers her an opportunity for a change of lifestyle - he has traded her services to a wealthy old man, Lilaque. Using the excuse that Armand has neglected her, she agrees to the change. Lilaque treats her well, though she misses Armand. Lescaut, however, sees her as his meal-ticket and prevents her from contacting Armand again. He breaks into Lilaque's strong-box and steals some money, so when Lilaque returns he becomes furious and throws them out. When Armand is told by his friend Francis about the theft he refuses to believe in Manon's guilt. She rejoins him and their relationship is resumed.

Some time later, the relationship has again broken up, and Armand is addicted to cocaine, supplied by Lescaut. Old Lilaque's son is now brought in by Lescaut, who has lined him up as Manon's next conquest, but he cannot find her, and Armand is unable to help. When Manon arrives she has a brief argument with Armand before leaving with young Lilaque and Lescaut. She does send Armand a note inviting him for a rendezvous the next day. In spite of his fuddled state the day before, he does keep the date and meets Manon at young Lilaque's apartment. Lescaut keeps watch, and steals a fashionably modern painting from the bedroom. Old Lilaque now arrives, summoned by the servants, and Armand and Lescaut hide while Manon tries to distract the old man. He discovers the theft, and Lescaut shoots him. When the servants arrive they find Armand and Manon with the corpse - she is holding the gun which her brother has handed to her before making his escape. In the final scene a despairing Armand is unable to spend any time with her before she is taken off to prison.

The Cast

Armand des Grieux
 a student
Francis
 Armand's friend
Lescaut
 Manon's brother
Lilaque fils
 
Lilaque père
 a rich old gentleman
Manon Lescaut
 
Prostitute
 
Servant
 to Lilaque fils

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