Die Kameliendame (Lady of the Camellias) - Synopsis

John Neumeier: Die Kameliendame. Lucia Lacarra, Ivan Liška Die Kameliendame. Lucia Lacarra. ©Charles Tandy John Neumeier: Die Kameliendame

Die Kameliendame (Lady of the Camellias)

John Neumeier

Music by Frédéric Chopin


The disposal of an estate: someone has died, and the entire contents of a luxurious apartment are to be auctioned off. Nanina, the faithful servant of the deceased, takes leave of her former life, placed between the auctioneer and his assistants.
Curious visitors, buyers, acquaintances and friends of the deceased, among them the older Monsieur Duval, examine the appointments.
A young man - Armand Duval - bursts unexpectedly in, seemingly out of his senses. When he becomes aware of the familiar surroundings he is on the verge of collapse. The old man lovingly supports his son and the latter, overcome by his memories, now begins to tell his story to his father.

Act I
It had been in the Théâtre-des-Variétés. They were performing the ballet Manon Lescaut, the famous drama of a rococo courtesan torn between love of luxury and love itself. One of the most beautiful and desirable courtesans in Paris - Marguerite Gautier - was in the audience. Moved by Manon's plight, she felt herself somehow related to her but simultaneously refused to accept Manon as her own reflection.
Armand had already admired Marguerite from afar but until now had never had an opportunity of making her acquaintance. Then he was introduced to her for the first time in the theatre. Now in a state of euphoria, he followed the ballet with increased intensity and seemed to see characteristics similar to himself in Des Grieux, Manon's faithful lover. For a moment he fears that his own future may be reflected in Des Grieux' fate.
After the performance Marguerite had decided to amuse herself - despite the presence of the boring Count N. - by inviting Armand's friend Gaston and the somewhat vulgar courtesan Prudence to her apartments. Armand had gone along too, and Marguerite used him so far to annoy young Count N., that the latter had left in a fit of jealousy. An attack of coughing had forced Marguerite to retire. Armand had followed her to offer his help and, overcome by emotion, confessed his love for her. Though touched by his passionate declaration, she remained sceptical and kept him at a distance.
The relationship between them deepened during the following period.
Marguerite led her accustomed life, hurried from ball to ball, from admirer to admirer, from the old Duke to the young Count. But Armand was always waiting for her. He even followed her into the country where, because of her fragile constitution, the Duke had put an idyllic house at her disposal.

Act II
Even in the country Marguerite continued her turbulent and expensive way of life at the Duke's expense. It happened as it had to, that a confrontation between the Duke and Armand took place. For the first time Marguerite made a choice, defending her lover in the presence of everyone and thereby rejecting a life of wealth and security. Both the Duke and his guests left indignantly. Armand and Marguerite were alone at last and could live out their love uninhibitedly.
The thought that this happiness is past beyond recall is too much for Armand now, and he collapses anew. His father, deeply affected, remembers the role that he had played in the story, but not without a sense of shame. When he had heard of the life that his son was leading, he had gone to visit Marguerite in her country house, but without his son's knowledge. Demanding that she leaves Armand both for his sake and for that of his innocent young daughter, Marguerite had proven her love for Armand by giving him up, returning to Paris when he was away, and despairingly throwing herself into her old style of life.
Armand is more quiet now and tells his father how he had found the house empty on his return. He had waited for Marguerite in vain until Nanina, to his amazement, had brought him a letter from her saying that she was breaking off with him and returning to her former way of life. Unbelieving, he hurried to Paris and found her after a night of searching - in the arms of another man.

Some time later they met accidentally in the Champs-Elysées. Marguerite was in the company of another beautiful courtesan, Olympia, to whom Armand immediately paid court, thus trying to strike back at Marguerite out of his own sense of hurt.
Deathly ill already, Marguerite had visited Armand one last time to ask that he stop humiliating her, and their love again found expression. But a nightmare vision of Manon tortured Marguerite when they fell asleep. Waking, she decided to honour her promise and silently left her beloved. For a second time now Armand was alone.
He then publicly offended her at a grand ball by handing her an envelope full of money - "payment" for her services. She collapsed.
Armand has now reached the end of his narrative to which his father, much moved, has listened. They part. When Armand is alone Nanina, who had heard of his presence, returns to give him Marguerite's diary. Armand starts to read it and learns of the rapid disintegration of her health. He seems to accompany her on her last visit to the theatre to see Manon Lescaut.
Manon, banished to America, impoverished and once again fleeing the
authorities, dies of exhaustion in the arms of her faithful lover Des Grieux, who had followed her into exile. Ill and despairing, Marguerite had left the theatre, but the characters of the ballet afflicted her feverish dreams and mingled with her own memories and hopes. She wanted to see Armand just once more. Deserted by her friends of happier times, she had confided her fears and longings to the diary that Nanina now gives to Armand.
Marguerite dies, alone and in poverty.