Henze’s Boulevard Solitude is a post-war retelling of Manon Lescaut.
True, Des Grieux is now a Rive Gauche beatnik and Manon is en route to a Swiss finishing school rather than a convent, but other than that, it’s the same story. It’s easy to see why WNO has chosen to present it alongside Puccini’s version, with the same director – Mariusz Treli?ski - and even the same set. Puccini’s loss is Henze’s gain: it seems fairly obvious where the majority of the team’s creative effort has been deployed.
That’s forgivable: Henze’s drama is taut and concise, and his score is a thing of miraculous richness, invention and magic. Keening 12-tone string lines, whispering percussion ensembles, raucous blasts of big-band swing and even a gorgeous, Puccinian sort-of humming chorus all somehow fuse together to drive the drama. Lothar Koenigs and his orchestra played it to the manner born: pacy, precise, and silkily beautiful.
On stage, meanwhile, Sarah Tynan gave the performance of a lifetime as Manon. Henze’s Manon is very much the mistress of her own impulses; Tynan somehow combined a confident, seductive sensuality with flashes of vulnerability – all sung with a voice of such sweetness and purity that you could feel exactly why Des Grieux (Jason Bridges, almost matching Tynan for tonal beauty) falls for her so hard, and why the other men in her life, her brother Lescaut (Benjamin Bevan) and Lilaque senior (Adrian Thompson – making a deeply ambiguous role strangely sympathetic) are so completely her playthings.
Boris Kudli?ka’s set elegantly divided the plush, red-curtained world of Manon’s sensual adventures with a blue café setting for Des Grieux’s anguish; designs that, like everything in this hugely impressive and entertaining production, served and clarified the drama of an opera that we must now – surely – consider an established modern classic.