La voix humaine

Poulenc’s La voix humaine is a monodrama for voice and rather large orchestra based on a play by Jean Cocteau.  There’s just the one character “Elle” and all we, the audience, hear, is one end of a telephone conversation between Elle and her, recently, ex-lover.  It’s a highly emotionally charged piece and not easy to pull off.  Last night, Christina Campsall and Brahm Goldhamer presented it in piano arrangement at Mazzoleni Hall with Oliver Klöter directing.  It’s a piece that needs directing too as, in a sense, not a lot happens.  It’s just a telephone call!

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Wisely I think, Klöter set the piece in its original 1920s habitat.  There are so many references to things like party lines and being cut off and other early telephone problems that updating would seem forced and wouldn’t add anything.  Then it’s all down to the performance really.  It was good, very good even.  Campsall has a rich, expressive mezzo voice with a clean soprano like upward extension which is pretty much ideal for this role (think Felicity Lott).  She also showed herself most capable of effectively negotiating the emotional roller coaster.  And that’s what it takes to pull this piece off.  Goldhamer made a very good job of substituting for orchestra. Actually, I’d be really interested to hear Campsall do this with orchestra.  I suspect she has the chops.

And despite it being Mazzoleni we had surtitles.  They were scarcely necessary as Campsall’s French diction is very good indeed but welcome nonetheless.  It makes me wonder why bigger, more “official” shows there can’t manage it.  So, all in all, not a bad way to spend an hour on a Sunday evening.

Photo credit: Stuart Lowe

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