Review: Boulevard Solitude at the Mayflower Theatre, Southampton (20/03/2014)

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There is no denying that the Welsh National Opera’s (WNO) drive towards making Opera more attractive and accessible to all (mostly us youngsters) is on many levels a successful and important initiative. Their slick productions, the contemporary issues covered and reasonable ticket pricing (especially for under 30’s) means that a night at the Opera is more attractive and accessible than ever before; the WNO production of Henze’s ‘Boulevard Solitude’ is no exception to this ethos.

As part of the WNO’s spring season, Fallen Women; Twentieth century German composer Hans Werner Henze’s Boulevard Solitude provides a slick and gritty alternative to the very classical Puccini and Verdi offerings that accompany it this season. Very much a lyric drama, rather than traditional opera, this one act gem charts the interweaving destructive forces at work between the separated lovers, Manon Lescaut and Armand des Grieux – portrayed in this production by Sarah Tynan and Jason Bridges respectively. The work follows their struggle to coexist through an exciting (and sometimes twisted) world of drugs, debauchery and murder.

Tynan’s portrayal of Manon was excellent, her operatic background with the English National Opera, Opera North and BBC Proms (to name a few) was highly evident – even though sung arias are minimal in Boulevard Solitude. Despite this, Tynan’s recital revealed her as a true performer, with exceptional emotive and despotic emphasis – especially towards her lover, Armand. Tynan embraced perfectly the cyclical nature of Manon’s spiral to murder; the murder scene itself was a highlight of this opera, with real, dramatic tension evident. Overall, as a leading lady (in a non-classical sense), Tynan excels herself in Boulevard Solitude – she makes effortless for us to understand how Henze’s work slots nicely into the WNO’s Fallen Women spring season.

Bridges’ performance as Armand des Grieux was emotive and exciting, though his presence was not as compelling as Tynan’s. Bridges excelled himself in the drugged scene, where his characterisation and the pathos invoked proved to be excellent. It was here also that most use was made of the (mediocre) set, and very clever lighting to really emphasise Armand’s despair and fall from grace.

A mention must, of course, go to the orchestra of the WNO, who excelled themselves under the baton of Lothar Koenigs, making Henze’s sometimes dissonant, neoclassical and jazz influenced score pour out of the pit. Likewise, the chorus were wonderful and restrained; delivering a difficult operatic piece with class and detail.

All in all, I would say that this incarnation of Boulevard Solitude was enjoyable, yet sometimes structurally flawed. Plot was not always clear and some of the staging techniques were unnecessary and confusing. None of these issues though were the fault of the cast – delivery was exquisite, in true WNO style! The best way to sum up Boulevard Solitude would be that it did not have a feeling of ‘filling’ the auditorium, and a large amount (too much) was either assumed, or left to the imagination.

6/10 – An enjoyable, but slightly disappointing performance.

Welsh National Opera will be performing Boulevard Solitude in Venue Cymru in Llandudno 3rd April 2014.

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