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La Voix Humaine
Poulenc: The Human Voice
October 16, 2015

Showtime: 8pm

A Hollywood inspired staging, created & directed by David Bridel and featuring Amanda Squitieri, of the classic one-woman opera, based on the play by Jean Cocteau, in which a despairing movie star clings to a relationship in free fall.

Pianist, Mark Robson, accompanies.

Tickets: $25/$20 for seniors

La voix humaine (English: The Human Voice) is a forty-minute, one-act opera for soprano and orchestra composed by Francis Poulenc in 1958. The work is based on the play of the same name by Jean Cocteau, who, along with French soprano Denise Duval, worked closely with Poulenc in preparation for the opera’s premiere. Poulenc’s tragédie lyrique was first performed at the Théâtre National de l’Opéra-Comique in Paris on 6 February 1959, with Duval singing the female role and Georges Prêtre conducting the orchestra, and with scenery, costumes, and direction by Cocteau. The libretto consists of a woman's last phone conversation with her lover, who now loves someone else. During the call, the woman reveals that she has attempted suicide because her lover has abandoned her.

This production of Poulenc's La Voix Humaine is inspired by some of the actresses and 20th Century female icons who fell in love with powerful men, only to be discarded. Marilyn Monroe, Marlene Dietrich, Maria Callas: despite their talent and beauty, in the end they gave their hearts in vain, and suffered deeply in the aftermath of their broken love affairs. The woman of Voix(known only as Elle or "She" - the character is un-named) has also lost her lover to another woman, and over the course of one desperate evening, she attempts to reconcile her feelings for him in a series of increasingly disturbing phone calls.

Poulenc's suggestion that Elle should be played by a young woman prompted our idea to set the production in 1920's Hollywood. Elle has a line, after describing how she can't face herself in the mirror, which reads "Mais, mon cheri, une figure admirable, c'est pire que tout, c'est pour les artistes... Jaimais mieux quand tu disais: Regardez-moi cette vilaine petite gueule!" ("But, Cheri, a face that everyone envies - that is worst of all, that is for an actress. I preferred it when you called me 'funny face'!") The text gives us a glimpse into the relationship that has just ended. Once, Elle felt as though she were a normal lovely woman in her lover's eyes. Now he has reverted to referring to her as an actress. It's a telling slight; actresses were not seen as the marrying kind. Perhaps an adventurous man about town would have his fun with a young, beautiful, and passionate actress and then leave her when an opportunity to further his social status came along in the form of a moneyed socialite? 

Whatever the answers to the mysteries of La Voix Humaine, there is no doubting the power of the music as an expression of the tortured psyche of a woman in pain.

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