My DVD of Hans Werner Henze’s Boulevard Solitude arrived the day before his death at the weekend and so went straight to the top of the reviewing pile. It’s an intriguing piece. It’s based on the same Abbé Prevost novel as all the other versions of Manon but updated to the period of composition (1952) and told from the viewpoint of des Grieux rather than Manon. In this version des Grieux picks Manon up at a railway station while she is on her way to finishing school in Lausanne. They run away to Paris but des Grieux is broke and Manon’s brother pimps her to a rich old man, Lilaque. The brother robs the old man’s house which gets them both kicked out. Manon has a brief fling with des Grieux before her brother pimps her out again; this time to Lilaque’s son. By this time des Grieux has a pretty serious cocaine problem. The cocaine, naturally, is supplied by Lescaut. Lescaut is in the process of stealing a painting from Lilaque fils when Lilaque père shows up. Lescaut hands Manon a gun and she kills the old man. In the last scene we are back at the railway station where a disconsolate des Grieux waits for one last glance at Manon as she is taken to prison.
Messiaen’s Saint François d’Assise is an astonishing piece of music theatre and Pierre Audi’s Amsterdam staging of it is equally extraordinary. There is very little “plot”. The work consists of eight loosely linked tableaux taken from 16th century accounts of St. Francis’ life and ministry. There is theology and leprosy and ornithology and it goes on for four and a quarter hours. It ought not to work but it does. Continue reading