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La Voix Humaine review at Royal Albert Hall, London – ‘movingly performed’

Anne Sophie Duprels in La Voix Humaine at Royal Albert Hall, London. Photo: Alex Brenner
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One of opera’s great (and unsettling) monologues, Poulenc’s La Voix Humaine is a vocal and dramatic tour de force for soprano.

Based on the play by Jean Cocteau, it follows a woman’s final conversation with the lover who has apparently jilted her – the audience witnessing only her side. She (literally – her character is given only as ‘Elle’) is put through the emotional wringer, her feelings of anger, rejection, insecurity and jealousy – and the admission of taking an overdose – savagely undercut by the banal, as well as by frequent interruptions from the operator or other callers on the line.

For Elle, the telephone offers a way of modulating the rawness of her feelings for her caller, but to the audience it is a ringing reminder that the crossed wires run deep; with each interruption, we see that she is more desperate to re-establish a connection with her lover.

Directed by Marie Lambert, Anne Sophie Duprels opens at an already heightened level of irritation, making a strong impact from the start but also limiting the emotional field. Her command of the role is complete, lending directness to the recitative-like writing (which she works hard to sustain in the unflattering acoustic of the Elgar Room at the Royal Albert Hall), and luminous in the song-like passages which occasionally shine through. Eminent French pianist Pascal Rogé takes on the role of the orchestra with equal assurance.

The artists are let down by the designs, from Duprels’ dowdy nightdress and gown to the ill-conceived lighting. Worst of all, the ultra-low budget set consists of bed frame apparently formed from scraps found in a primary school art class cupboard.

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Classic 20th-century operatic monologue movingly performed