Lady of the Camellias was given its World Premiere by the Stuttgart Ballet at the Weurttemberg Staatstheatre, Stuttgart, Germany on November 4, 1978, danced by Egon Madsen (Armand Duval), Marcia Haydée (Marguerite Gautier), Birgit Keil (Manon Lescaut) and Richard Cragun (Des Grieux).
John Neumeier’s original staging of Lady of the Camellias received its United States premiere by the Stuttgart Ballet at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Washington, D. C. on May 15, 1979, with the same cast.
John Neumeier revised Lady of the Camellias for the Hamburg Ballet; this version premiered on February 1, 1981 with Marcia Haydée as Marguerite and Kevin Haigen as Armand. This production made its United States premiere at the Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa, California on February 13, 2007.
The revised production of Lady of the Camellias was given
its American Ballet Theatre Company Premiere on May 25, 2010 at the
Metropolitan Opera House, New York danced by Julie Kent (Marguerite
Gautier), Roberto Bolle (Armand Duval), Gillian Murphy (Manon Lescaut)
and David Hallberg (Des Grieux).
The ballet takes place during an auction. The story evolves as a series of memories recalled from various points of view – Armand's, his Father's, and Marguerite's. All actions during the auction are indicated by italics.
It begins in the Théâtre-des-Variétés, during a performance of the ballet Manon Lescaut in which the famous rococo courtesan deceives Des Grieux with numerous admirers. In the audience, Marguerite Gautier is disgusted by Manon's frivolous infidelity. Armand Duval, who has long admired Marguerite, is introduced to her by Gaston Rieux. Marguerite makes fun of Armand's awkward sincerity. As he follows the ballet, Armand fears that his own future may reflect Des Grieux's sorrowful fate.
After the performance Marguerite invites Armand to her apartment along with his friend Gaston, the courtesan Prudence and her own escort, the wearisome young Count N. Annoyed by the jealous Count, Marguerite suffers a coughing attack. Armand follows her to her bedroom, offers his assistance, then confesses his love. Marguerite is moved by his sincere passion. However, aware of her fatal illness and needing the comfort of luxury, she insists that their affair must remain secret.
While Marguerite continues to lead her hectic life, hastening from one ball to another, from one admirer to the next, from an old Duke to the young Count, Armand is always there - waiting. When Marguerite departs for the idyllic country house the Duke had put at her disposal - he follows her.
Surrounded by reveling friends and ardent admirers, Marguerite continues her turbulent life in the country. With the inevitable confrontation between Armand and the Duke, Marguerite's moment of decision arrives. She publicly acknowledges her love for Armand. Armand and Marguerite are alone at last.
Armand's father recalls with regret his part in the story.
Ashamed that his son is living with a prostitute, Monsieur Duval visits Marguerite in the country. He insists that her relationship with his son will ruin Armand. Shocked, Marguerite protests, but the image of Manon and her admirers appear in memory, a mirror image of her own past, confirming the truth of Monsieur Duval's accusations. He demands that she leave Armand. Out of deep and sincere love Marguerite complies.
Armand tells his father how he found the house deserted.
He waited in vain until Nanina brought him a letter saying that Marguerite had returned to her former life. Unbelieving, Armand runs to Paris, finding Marguerite in the arms of the Duke.
Marguerite is accompanied by the beautiful young courtesan Olympia. To have his revenge on the woman who had so deeply wounded him, Armand flirts with and seduces Olympia.
Deathly ill, Marguerite visits Armand, begging him not to hurt her by flaunting his affair with Olympia. Their passion ignites once more. Falling asleep, a vision of her alter ego Manon beckons Marguerite back to her former life. Waking, she remembers her promise to his father and silently leaves Armand for the second time.
At a grand ball, Armand publicly humiliates Marguerite by handing her money as payment for past services. Marguerite collapses.
Armand has reached the end of his story. He will never see Marguerite
again. Deeply moved, his father leaves as Nanina returns and gives Armand
Ill and despairing, Marguerite leaves the theatre, but the characters from the ballet follow her into a feverish dream. As the phantom lovers blend with her own memories, her identification with Manon seems complete. Deserted and longing for Armand, Marguerite confides her last thoughts to the diary, which she gives to Nanina for Armand.
Marguerite dies alone.
Armand silently closes her diary.