Manchester Theatre Awards

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La Voix Humaine

Francis Poulenc
Buxton Festival
Pavilion Arts Centre
10 July 2013 to 16 July 2013

A bare foot protrudes from beneath a white sheet. The toes twitch. Slowly, a young woman casts off the sheet and is discovered with a white telephone in her bed. We soon realise that she is on the receiving end of a call from the man she loves, who is ending their five-year relationship. And for the next 50 minutes we watch spellbound as she goes through a range of emotions dealing with the situation. She is, turn and turn about, hysterical, calm, loving, at screaming pitch, suicidal.

This is Poulenc’s La Voix Humaine and here we have an authentic and intimate version, featuring the exhilarating French soprano Ann Sophie Duprels, accompanied by the outstanding Poulenc interpreter, pianist Pascal Rogé. Apparently, this is something they have been hoping to do together for years and it is our good fortune that they have managed it at last - in Buxton. It is, of course, sung in French with English surtitles (helpful but obtrusive in this venue).

These two performers surely give the piece its definitive interpretation. Duprels is expressive, waif-like, abandoned, but trying to hold on, even wanting to reassure her lover and take the blame. She lies on her bed, paces about, sits, kneels, fidgets, showing her anguish as she deals with the phone call she is so desperate to receive. Several times they get cut off – and she panics. Yet, for all the anguish, she still ends by saying “Je t’aime”. The music is descriptive, sometimes powerful and punchy, sometimes quite lyrical, reflecting her rollercoaster of emotions.

It is sensitively directed by Marie Lambert.

With a French comic opera Double Bill to start with and this authentic version of  Poulenc’s penetrating and knowing exploration of abandonment, the Festival has a telling theme, producing laughter and near-tears.

The performance will be repeated at 2pm on 16 July. Catch it if you can.

Reviewer: Philip Radcliffe