Classical Talking opera

Talking opera

Written 52 years ago, Francis Poulenc’s La Voix Humaine resonates with contemporary society’s obsession for impersonal communication and the development of a virtual persona. As a futuristic commentary on the modern technological communication explosion, this one-act, one-woman opera explores the emotional impact of maintaining impersonal contact. As the opera develops, the lines become increasingly blurred between whom the woman loves: the telephone or her lover, the means of contact or the person contacted?

Poulenc reduces the opera genre’s extraneous vestiges into a tightly woven theatrical construction with the dramatic pulse unfolding without interruption, only including the essential elements in the text’s portrayal. Not a “number opera”, the influence of Wagner can be seen in Poulenc’s merging of recitative and aria. This seamlessly created musical product allows for the punctuation of continuous recitative with relatively short (reminiscent of aria style writing) melodic passages.

With these lyrical interludes Poulenc generates short periods of respite from the score’s stark dramatic presentation. It is possible that through using austere textures Poulenc’s setting offers a narrative on the emotional barrenness of virtual communication; an interpretation on human contact being supplanted with technology.

The unfolding drama
In a conception which supports the woman’s mercurial emotional states, the score brilliantly intertwines whole tone and modal passages with dissonant expanded tonal expression. The instrumental contribution drives the drama; the accompaniment emerges as an unseen character offering rich commentary on the unfolding drama, and adding a subtle narrative to the lover’s inferred replies.

Important motivic signifiers, such as the modally inflected perfect cadence, pave the way for the introduction of altered emotional states and dramatic turns. The accompaniment forms an integral component of the drama, without which the opera cannot exist.

Pianist Waldo Weyer’s brilliant interpretation of the intricate score displays his complete identification with the essence of La Voix Humaine. His superior pianistic skills, evident in his imaginative employment of tonal colours conjured from a multi-prism of shadings and nuances, are used by him to negotiate the score’s never-ending emotional swings. Weyer marries technique and interpretive communication in an electrifying and mesmerising tour de force.

The minimalist and functional décor adds an interpretive layer to a production where visual, textual and musical elements intermingle in a dramatic polyphony. Werner Nel’s insightfully conceived production is a masterpiece providing space for the audience to appreciate each element individually and collectively.

Mandie de Villiers-Schutte
In this role Mandie de Villiers-Schutte (soprano) proves her mettle: she is as much an actress as she is a singer. She commands the small stage with aplomb, each inch of space used with dramatic eloquence, never creating the impression that her performance could be hemmed in.

Through the gamut of demonic raging, taut anxiety and languorous loquaciousness she uses every sinew in her body to express the text. Her mouth, cheeks, eyes and lips, integral aspects of her intense performance, communicate to the same extent as her perfectly executed diction. Each word is expressively and meaningfully woven into this well integrated presentation.

Confident with the score’s rhythmical complexities and melodic angularity, de Villiers-Schutte traverses with consummate ease the sharp, sudden contrasts between declamation and expansive bel canto styled phrases. Regardless of the sometimes physically demanding staging, de Villiers-Schutte’s soprano soars effortlessly and magnificently, her huge vocal capabilities matched with a prodigious memory. This star in the making is already a professional to her fingertips.

La Voix Humaine should be supported by all who have an interest in the impact that theatre exerts as a commentary on contemporary phenomena.

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