Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Cooperstown and the Hood

Glimmerglass Festival continues its string of world premiere youth operas with a wholly enchanting production of Ben Moore and Kelly Rourke’s Robin Hood.

Glimmerglass Oklahoma: Yeow!

Director Molly Smith knew just how to best succeed at staging the evergreen classic Oklahoma! for Glimmerglass Festival.

La pietra del paragone in Pesaro

Impeccable casting — see photos. Three new generation Italian buffos brought startling new life to Pier Luigi Pizzi’s 2002 production of Rossini’s first major comedy (La Scala, 1812).

An Invitation to Travel: Christiane Karg and Malcolm Martineau at the Proms

German soprano Christiane Karg invited us to accompany her on a journey during this lunchtime chamber music Prom at Cadogan Hall as she followed the voyages of French composers in Europe and beyond, and their return home.

Schoenberg's Gurrelieder at the Proms - Sir Simon Rattle

Prom 46: Schoenberg's Gurrelieder with Simon Rattle and the London Symphony Orchestra, Simon O'Neill, Eva-Maria Westbroek, Karen Cargill, Peter Hoare, Christopher Purves and Thomas Quasthoff. And three wonderful choirs - the CBSO Chorus, the London Symphony Chorus and Orfeó Català from Barcelona, with Chorus Master Simon Halsey, Rattle's close associate for 35 years.

Le Siège de Corinthe in Pesaro

That of Rossini (in French) and that of Lord Byron (in English, Russian, Italian and Spanish), the battles of both Negroponte (1470) and of Missolonghi (1826) re-enacted amidst massive piles of plastic water bottles (thousands of them) that collapsed onto the heroine at Mahomet II's destruction of Corinth.

Dunedin Consort perform Bach's St John Passion at the Proms

John Butt and the Dunedin Consort's 2012 recording of Bach's St John Passion was ground-breaking for it putting the passion into the context of a reconstruction of the original Lutheran Vespers service.

Collision: Spectra Ensemble at the Arcola Theatre

‘Asteroid flyby in October: A drill for the end of the world?’ So shouted a headline in USA Today earlier this month, as journalist Doyle Rice asked, ‘Are we ready for an asteroid impact?’ in his report that in October NASA will conduct a drill to see how well its planetary defence system would work if an actual asteroid were heading straight for Earth.

Joshua Bell offers Hispanic headiness at the Proms

At the start of the 20th century, French composers seemed to be conducting a cultural love affair with Spain, an affair initiated by the Universal Exposition of 1889 where the twenty-five-year old Debussy and the fourteen-year-old Ravel had the opportunity to hear new sounds from East Asia, such as the Javanese gamelan, alongside gypsy flamenco from Granada.

John Joubert's Jane Eyre

Librettists have long mined the literature shelves for narratives that are ripe for musico-dramatic embodiment. On the whole, it’s the short stories and poems - The Turn of the Screw, Eugene Onegin or Death in Venice, for example - that best lend themselves to operatic adaptation.

Hibiki: a European premiere by Mark-Anthony Turnage at the Proms

Hibiki: sound, noise, echo, reverberation, harmony. Commissioned by the Suntory Hall in Tokyo to celebrate the Hall’s 30th anniversary in 2016, Mark-Anthony Turnage’s 50-minute Hibiki, for two female soloists, children’s chorus and large orchestra, purports to reflect on the ‘human reverberations’ of the Tohoku earthquake in 2011 and the devastation caused by the subsequent tsunami and radioactive disaster.

Through Life and Love: Louise Alder sings Strauss

Soprano Louise Alder has had an eventful few months. Declared ‘Young Singer of the Year’ at the 2017 International Opera Awards in May, the following month she won the Dame Joan Sutherland Audience Prize at the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World.

Janáček: The Diary of One Who Disappeared, Grimeborn

A great performance of Janáček’s song cycle The Diary of One Who Disappeared can be, allowing for the casting of a superb tenor, an experience on a par with Schoenberg’s Erwartung. That Shadwell Opera’s minimalist, but powerful, staging in the intimate setting of Studio 2 of the Arcola Theatre was a triumph was in no small measure to the magnificent singing of the tenor, Sam Furness.

Khovanshchina: Mussorgsky at the Proms

Remembering the centenary of the Russian Revolution, this Proms performance of Mussorgsky’s mighty Khovanshchina (all four and a quarter hours of it) exceeded all expectations on a musical level. And, while the trademark doorstop Proms opera programme duly arrived containing full text and translation, one should celebrate the fact that - finally - we had surtitles on several screens.

Santa Fe: Entertaining If Not Exactly (R)evolutionary

You know what I loved best about Santa Fe Opera’s world premiere The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs?

Longborough Young Artists in London: Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice

For the last three years, Longborough Festival Opera’s repertoire of choice for their Young Artist Programme productions has been Baroque opera seria, more specifically Handel, with last year’s Alcina succeeding Rinaldo in 2014 and Xerxes in 2015.

A Master Baritone in Recital: Sesto Bruscantini, 1981

This is the only disc ever devoted to the art of Sesto Bruscantini (1919–2003). Record collectors value his performance of major baritone roles, especially comic but also serious ones, on many complete opera recordings, such as Il barbiere di Siviglia (with Victoria de los Angeles). He continued to perform at major houses until at least 1985 and even recorded Mozart's Don Alfonso in 1991, when he was 72.

Emalie Savoy: A Portrait

Since 1952, the ARD—the organization of German radio stations—has run an annual competition for young musicians. Winners have included Jessye Norman, Maurice André, Heinz Holliger, and Mitsuko Uchida. Starting in 2015, the CD firm GENUIN has offered, as a separate award, the chance for one of the prize winners to make a CD that can serve as a kind of calling card to the larger musical and music-loving world. In 2016, the second such CD award was given to the Aris Quartett (second-prize winner in the “string quartet” category).

Full-throated Cockerel at Santa Fe

A tale of a lazy, befuddled world leader that ‘has no clothes on’ and his two dimwit sons, hmmmm, what does that remind me of. . .?

Santa Fe’s Trippy Handel

If you don’t like a given moment in Santa Fe Opera’s staging of Alcina, well, just like the volatile mountain weather, wait two minutes and it will surely change.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Opera Holland Park, <em>La voix humaine</em>
26 Mar 2017

La voix humaine: Opera Holland Park at the Royal Albert Hall

Reflections on former visits to Opera Holland Park usually bring to mind late evening sunshine, peacocks, Japanese gardens, the occasional chilly gust in the pavilion and an overriding summer optimism, not to mention committed performances and strong musical and dramatic values.

Opera Holland Park, La voix humaine

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Anne Sophie Duprels

Photo credit: Alex Brenner

 

For this performance of Poulenc’s one-woman emotional roller-coaster, La voix humaine (1959), Opera Holland Park ventured indoors, into the genteel setting of the Elgar Room at the Royal Albert Hall. The room is not a large one and some of the sell-out crowd may have found their sightlines somewhat restricted as Marie Lambert’s intense, taut direction placed French soprano Anne Sophie Duprels at the centre of a slightly raised platform, often kneeling, crouching or reclining.

But, the intimacy of the setting, together with Duprels’ astonishing presence and impact, more than made up for any visual impediment. Duprels’ tour de force also helped mitigate the drabness of the design. Given the nature of this one-off excursion to the RAH, allowance can be made for adopting a limited staging, especially for a work that in fact needs no staging at all (except perhaps a single property, the telephone itself, which is almost a second character) to make its emotional and dramatic impact).

But, Lambert’s fluctuating lighting was distracting. And, the dilapidated plywood bedstead, daubed with blue paint splashes, did little to evoke Parisian chic. Nor did it suggest the bedroom ‘asleep with remembering’ which contains just a woman and the telephone that she clutches, ‘like a revolver’, as Cocteau demanded when instructing Poulenc about the design and staging of the opera in 1959. However, the blue cord of the telephone was a subtle but powerful visual image: Duprels’ ultramarine fingernails suggested it was delivering an intravenous infusion of a blue barbiturate, sedating and hypnotising the anxiety-fuelled woman, as she slipped ever nearer to sleep, or suicide.

Fortunately, Duprels’ performance pushed any concerns aside. As ‘Elle’, the lonely woman who makes a desperate telephone call to the lover who has abandoned her, she spanned an enormous emotional spectrum from terror to tremulous hope, from existential despair to excitement. We hear just one side of the conversation but, through careful pacing of the silences and nuanced repetitions of others’ words, Duprels was able to evoke a world beyond the forlorn bedroom, thereby deepening her own alienation from normal human interaction and exchange. As her attempted tête-à-tête was continually disrupted by wrong-numbers, disconnections, crossed-wires and an intrusive operator, Elle’s inner distress became a palpable but unspoken inner cry for help, ‘Can you hear me?’

Anne Sophie Duprels (c) Alex Brenner.jpg Anne Sophie Duprels. Photo credit: Alex Brenner.

Cocteau’s 1930 play grew out extreme personal crisis: addicted to opium, he was in the midst of a turbulent affair with a young writer, Jean Desbordes, who eventually abandoned Cocteau for a woman and joined the French Resistance movement, suffering a torturous death at the hands of the Gestapo. Poulenc, in the 1950s, was also suffering private distress, depression and drug addiction following the death of his partner Lucien Roubert. Though the work, in both dramatic and operatic form, conveys the universal experience of grief for a lost love, there is a crypto-homosexual insinuation in Elle’s quasi-masochistic sensibility which recalls the plays of Tennessee Williams.

Cocteau does not seem particularly sympathetic towards his protagonist. Her lies are barefaced - she is wearing his favourite dress (in Lambert’s production she is draped in an unflattering, dirty, crumpled beige night-shirt); she has spent the day with her best friend, Marthe, when in fact she hasn’t left the room; she’s coping well, even though she later confesses she has tried to take her own life just the evening before.

But, as Elle recollected old love letters and rambled incoherently - almost a caricature of emotional neediness - Duprels managed to draw sympathy for the suffering women, despite her histrionics and melodrama. The moment when Elle discovers that her lover’s mendacity equals her own was full of pathos. We infer that he is calling her from his apartment, and when the line suddenly goes dead, she re-dials, only to be answered by the servant Joseph. Duprels’ reiteration of Joseph’s words, ‘Monsieur is not in and will not be returning home tonight’, was laden with tragic realisation and recognition.

Duprels confirmed that she is a tremendous singing actress. Not surprisingly, every word of the French text was audible and she had a sure sense of how to accommodate her voice to the small venue. She conjured an enormous variety of vocal colour and tone: at times whispering, speaking, crooning, then flowering in full blown lyrical ecstasy, gleaming at the top, breathless and dusky below. As she tried vainly to win her lover back with nostalgic remembrance, her voice was caressing, but when pain and pride broke through Duprels exposed Elle’s bitterness, introducing a shrill stridency or hardness of tone. Her physical commitment to the role was consummate, the final moments of Elle’s breakdown gripping and troubling.

Pascal Rogé was an attentive, detailed and discreet accompanist, powerfully interjecting with angular, jabbing motifs to portray the climactic peaks of Elle’s nervous disintegration, but elsewhere delicately hinting at wistful memories of tenderness or expanding lyrically to convey past passions.

Duprels demonstrated just how powerful a musico-dramatic experience she could create with limited means and time. I greatly admired Duprels’ performance last year in Mascagni’s in Iris and her performance here certainly whets the appetite for this year’s season at Holland Park, where in July she will be reunited with Lambert in a new production of Leoncavallo’s Zazà whose eponymous ‘heroine’ - a chanteuse raised from the backstreets to the bright lights - runs her own gamut from fervent passion to dejected self-pity.

Opera Holland Park 2017

Claire Seymour

Poulenc: La voix humaine

Anne Sophie Duprels (soprano), Pascal Rogé (piano)

Opera Holland Park, Elgar Room, Royal Albert Hall, London; Wednesday 22nd March 2017.

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):