Welsh National Opera at Birmingham Hippodrome – Henze’s Boulevard Solitude – Jason Bridges & Sarah Tynan

Boulevard Solitude – Lyrisches Drama in one Act to a libretto by Grete Weil after the play by Walter Jockisch, in its turn a modern re-telling of the Abbé Prévost’s L’Histoire du chevalier des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut [sung in an English translation by Norman Platt, with English surtitles]

Armand des Grieux – Jason Bridges
Manon Lescaut – Sarah Tynan
Lescaut – Benjamin Bevan
Monsieur Lilaque – Adrian Thompson
Francis – Alastair Moore
Young Lilaque – Laurence Cole
Mr Man – Tomasz Wygoda

Chorus & Orchestra of Welsh National Opera
Lothar Koenigs

Mariusz Treliński – Director
Boris Kudlička – Set design
Marek Adamski – Costume design
Felice Ross – Lighting design
Tomasz Wygoda – Choreography
Bartek Macias – Video projection
Paul Woodfield – Lighting

Reviewed by: Alexander Campbell

Reviewed: 6 March, 2014
Venue: Birmingham Hippodrome, England

Boulevard Solitude, Welsh National Opera. Photograph: www.wno.orgHans Werner Henze’s take on the Manon Lescaut story is a wonderfully compact and vivid realisation set to some of the composer’s most elegant and crystalline music. There are influences of jazz and blues aplenty, and much musically psychological insight into the characters and their motivations. The text revolves round Des Grieux’s telling of his story and the reflection of his life and that of Manon’s and often conversing with the audience. The compression into seven scenes gives pace to the narrative, but not at the expense of character portrayal and development. Lescaut, although not an appealing man in any of the other operatic versions, here is seen also as a victim of circumstance – his drug habit in this production driving much of his motivation to make what he can using his sister’s charms and her effect on vulnerable men. The story is also modified in that a father-son axis – Monsieur Lilaque and his offspring – is also present; though the similarities to the Massenet score ends there, as the father is here an active lover of Manon and the son an addition to the cast.

Boulevard Solitude, Welsh National Opera. Photograph: www.wno.orgUsing the same sets as the previous night’s production of Manon Lescaut, this staging by Mariusz Treliński has rather more cohesive qualities than the settings lent to the Puccini. The designs are used to far better effect regarding locations, and they do not militate against the libretto.

The enunciation of the singers was superlative, and rendered the supertitles almost superfluous. Jason Bridges was a good narrator and an impassioned Des Greiux. His attractively reedy tenor was an asset throughout. Sarah Tynan, alluring of voice and appropriately seductive yet curiously detached as a character, caught Manon’s knowing side and yet managed to retain some sympathy. Her silvery tones were heard to advantage. Benjamin Bevan was a forthright Lescaut, displaying a virile and ample baritone. Adrian Thompson added another strong cameo to his roster of interesting roles.

WNO has long been a promoter of modern and new work, and it felt as if the orchestra was relishing the chance to tackle something from the core repertoire. How well the musicians responded to Lothar Koenigs, who showed a mastery of ensuring richness of sound allied to clarity of texture.


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