A Superb Performance Holds this Henze Opera Together.

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Hans Werner Henze,  Boulevard Solitude (1951): Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra of Welsh National Opera/Lothar Koenigs (conductor), Venue Cymru (North Wales Theatre), Llandudno. 3.4.2014. (RJF)

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
Actors, Justyna Białowas, Katarzyna Hołtra, Joanna Jeffries, Gordon Brandie, Michał Ciecka, Nicholas Keegan, Ashley James Orwin

Director, Marius Trelínski
Set Designer, Boris Kudlička
Costume Designer, Marek Adamski
Lighting Designer, Felice Ross
Choreographer, Tomasz Wygoda
Video Production Designer, Bartek Macias

Since this had essentially the same production and design team who were responsible for the mish mash and ill-conceived production of Puccini’s Manon Lescaut the night before, I, along with many of a fairly full audience, approached Boulevard Solitude with some trepidation. Using the same set, with the addition of a bar and without as many flashing lights, the performance was in fact something of a tour de force. Whilst this owed much to the performers, Sarah Tynan in particular, it matched the diverse musical idiom of Henze’s first opera, conceived and realized in rabble-strewn Berlin in the years immediately after World War 2.

The setting was non-specific, but then Henze’s take on the Manon story is different from Puccini’s, or Massenet’s for that matter, and in its ninety minutes reveals much about male female relationships without that necessity. Sarah Tynan had the ideal figure du part for Manon and we did see a lot of her figure as she spent most of the time in bra, pants and suspenders. As I suggested in my review of the Manon Lescaut, presented the previous evening, this was gratuitous and had more to do with the producer’s psyche and fetishist predilection than with the composer or the story. Miss Tynan not only tolerated this, she acted the role superbly and matched it with her singing of the difficult music with its idioms that vary between jazz and twelve-tone cacophony.

The production was not without its idiocies such as pig heads and slow fox trotting policeman along with Manon doubles, or was it triples? The supporting singing cast were more than adequate, notably Adrian Thompson as Lilaque senior and Jason Bridges as Des Grieux, albeit that Henze allows little opportunity for the creation of character.  Lothar Koenigs in the pit was more in his element than in the Puccini the night before. The audience gave him, and Sarah Tynan in particular, a massive ovation at the end.

Whether the two works by this production team are worth preserving I doubt. Despite the warmth of the reception at the end of Boulevard Solitude it did not cleanse the feeling of the night before when many more people were critical and felt short changed. The last thing WNO want to do is to put people off their twice-yearly seasons in Llandudno, which draw a regular and loyal clientele from far and wide. The artistic team in Cardiff should heed the problems at English National Opera who are increasing their large deficit by employing avant garde European and American producers and playing to rows of empty seats.  WNO should remember their own disaster and cost of Calixto Bieto’s Die Fledermaus of the early nineties that was never revived as one example, with the idiosyncrasies of the recent Maria Stuarda a blot on the themed Elizabethan Queens another.

WNO’s Autumn programme, from Wednesday October 22nd at Llandudno features two rarely performed bel canto masterpieces, along with Carmen. Themed as Liberty or Death! The season will start with two consecutive performances of Carmen followed by one each of Rossini’s William Tell and Moses in Egypt, which will be staged within the same scenic environment and directed by Chief Executive and Artistic Director David Pountney. Both operas also see a return to WNO for former Music Director Carlo Rizzi. Aware of the need to fill theatresand solicit donations, I hope Mr Pountney will bear in mind his relatively conservative clientele and not set the bel canto operas in the current Middle East or recent Balkans!

Robert J Farr.

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