Review: Festival of Voice – WNO’s La Voix Humaine

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La Voix Humaine | Festival of Voice | Beachcliffe Apartments, Penarth | 8th June 2016


The Festival of Voice has thankfully incorporated a large deal of classical and opera. The festival has ingeniously chosen a masterwork of the mid-20th century entitled La Voix Humaine, or simply in English: The Human Voice.

Based on Jean Cocteau’s play, the Francis Poulenc opera focuses on a female character, who lingers on her telephone for the duration of the piece. She is on the phone with her boyfriend, he is now in love with someone else. This materialises into the utter dismay of our female protagonist and her possible demise.

What makes this production unique is its stifling intimacy and prickly atmosphere, something that can’t be achieved in a large theatre. The location for the event was kept a secret for some time, with brilliant marketing from WNO keeping us tantalised beforehand. A hilarious voice message from “L” and an invitation with a hand-written note all contributed to the theatre of the event.

Arriving at the apparent block, the small audience (no more than 15) waited eagerly for it to begin. After some time, “L” arrives and apologises for keeping us waiting. With me in first, I was treated with a hug and kiss from her, as we began to fall into the flat. Taking in the surroundings, I marvelled at the chic design of the place and dreaded to think of the cost of renting a pad like this. I remained flummoxed as to why the bathroom door didn’t have a lock on it.

We grab seats in the lounge area, she makes a great host as she offers us a drink and canapés, as Miles Davis is briefly heard. She asks around for her mobile (this is a contemporary take after all), asking me to ring her and then finding it behind a large plant pot. Thus begins the real drama…

In an alarming performance by Claire Wild, she lives up to her name as “L”, as we are witness to her downfall, through utter heartbreak. She storms around the flat, simultaneously keeping us at ease and also extremely agitated.

Her acting is as great as her soprano in David Poutney’s immaculate production. The character could be from any time since the telephone’s invention and the one side of what we hear can only add to our own imaginations in interpreting what is being said on the other side of the phone.

There is no orchestra crammed into this flat, just a pre-record accompaniment from an uncredited pianist. James Clarke is the Sound designer, sat in the corner with his laptop and eager fingers on a dial, helping to pace the piano with Wild’s singing.

Poulenc’s score is unashamedly lyrical and pleasing to the ear. In just the piano, the opera is alive with heightened moments of suspense, even incorporating the ringing of the phone into the score. At the finale, “L” is exhausted and collapses to the floor and a stagehand whispers to us, “I think you better go now”, as I snatched one last canapé and needed a moment to take in what I had just witnessed.

We should certainly hear more Poulenc in the future.

A marvellous idea, impeccably executed.

Rating: 5 stars

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Cover Image Credit: Wales Millennium Centre

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