|Hans Werner Henze|
Boulevard Solitutde is a Lyrisches Drama (lyric drama) or opera in one act by Hans Werner Henze to a German libretto by Grete Weil after the play by Walter Jockisch, in its turn a modern telling of François Prévost's Manon Lescaut. The premiere was on February 17, 1952, at the Landestheater, Hanover. The first performance in the United States was at the Santa Fe Opera in 1967.
Henze’s first work of real note, the opera stands out for its use of strong jazz influence from a composer who had hitherto been associated with twelve tone technique. The piece is a reworking of the Manon Lescaut story, already adapted operatically by Auber, Massenet and Puccini, into a contemporary framework.
Although not part of the core operatic repertoire, Boulevard Solitude continues to be performed and is popular with audiences, with a London revival in 2000 going on to sell heavily despite much negative critical reception and attacks from the tabloid press.
|Role||Voice type||Premiere cast, February 17, 1952
(Conductor: Johannes Schüler)
|Manon Lescaut||high soprano||Sigrid Klaus|
|Armand des Grieux, a student||lyric tenor||Walter Buckow|
|Lescaut, Manon's brother||baritone|
|Francis, Armand's friend||baritone|
|Lilaque, père, a rich old gentleman||high buffo tenor|
|Servant to Lilaque, fils||mime|
|Two drug addicts||dancers|
|A cigarette boy||dancer|
|Newspaper sellers, beggars, whores, police, students, travellers|
- Scene 1: The waiting room of a busy train station in a large French city.
The student Armand des Grieux meets a young woman by the name of Manon Lescaut, who is being brought to boarding school in Lausana by her brother. Armand instantly falls in love with Manon, and the two run off to Paris together.
- Scene 2: An attic in Paris.
The two live together happily, although in poverty, in an attic room. Armand has been cut off by his father on account of his dissolute lifestyle, and is forced to ask his friend Francis for money. However, Manon’s brother reappears during Armand's absence and convinces her to visit an admirer of hers, the wealthy older man Lilaque Sr.
- Scene 3: An elegant room in Lilaque’s house.
Manon becomes Lilaque Sr.’s mistress, but remains in love with Armand. Her brother appears and begs her for money. When she refuses him saying that she has none, he breaks into Lilaque Sr.’s safe. However Lilaque discovers them and evicts Manon.
- Scene 4: The library of the university.
Sometime later, Armand, Francis, and some other students are studying the work of the Roman poet Catullus. Armand is still in love with Manon but this love is fading. Francis tells Armand about Manon’s robbing Lilaque and her expulsion from his house, but Armand doesn’t believe it. Francis leaves angrily and Manon enters. Manon and Armand read a poem that revives their love.
- Scene 5: In a bar.
Manon and Armand are together again. Armand is addicted to drugs in order to try to forget the past. Lescaut (Manon’s brother) brings him cocaine in a bar and asks for Manon, who he wishes to procure for Lilaque Jr. When Manon arrives Armand gets angry with Lescaut and Lalique Jr. Manon tries to calm him and then leaves with the two men. Armand receives the message that Manon wishes to see him the next day, when Lilaque leaves. Armand is left confused.
- Scene 6: The apartment of Lilaque Jr.
Armand and Manon are together in Lilaque Jr.’s bedroom. Manon is satisfied with the new situation of being under the protection of Lilaque Jr. but Armand is nostalgic for the past in which he still lives. Lescaut appears and warns Armand that he should leave before the servants find him. Armand cuts a picture out of its frame in order to sell it, but is discovered by a servant who reports the incident to Lilaque Sr. who calls the police. Lescaut fights with Lilaque Sr. until Manon shoots the old man with a revolver that had been pressed into her hand by her brother. As Lescaut and Armand flee, Manon is arrested.
- Scene 7: The exterior of a prison.
Armand arrives hoping to see his former lover before she is imprisoned. The scene ends with musical numbers from the life of the couple.
- Boyden, Matthew, The Rough Guide to Opera, Rough Guides, London, 2002, ISBN 1-85828-749-9.
- Opera-Guide.ch synopsis