Thursday, 23 March 2017

Stylish and intense: Anne Sophie Duprels in La voix humaine

Anne Sophie Duprels - Poulenc: La voix humaine - Opera Holland Park (Photo Alex Brenner)
Anne Sophie Duprels - Poulenc: La voix humaine
Opera Holland Park (Photo Alex Brenner)
Francis Poulenc La voix humaine; Anne-Sophie Duprels, Pascal Rogé; Opera Holland Park at the Elgar Room, Royal Albert Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Mar 22 2017
Star rating: 4.5

Poulenc's mono-drama in an intimate and engaging performance

Last night (23 March 2017) Opera Holland Park made a rare move indoors when it presented Francis Poulenc's opera La voix humaine in the Elgar Room of the Royal Albert Hall. The opera was directed by Marie Lambert and performed by Anne Sophie Duprels (the two will re-unite in the Summer when Lambert directs Duprels in the title of of Leoncavallo's Zaza at Opera Holland Park). La voix humaine was performed in the version for soprano and piano, with pianist Pascal Rogé accompanying Anne Sophie Duprels. The performance was preceded by a short introduction to the opera by Mark Valencia.

Poulenc wrote the opera in 1958 for the soprano Denise Duval (who had sung the role of Blanche in his opera Dialogues des Carmelites in the French-language premiere in 1957) Poulenc intended La voix humaine to be performed with orchestra, but his version for soprano and piano enables smaller scale performances which can bring out something of the intimacy and concentrated intensity of the work.

The Royal Albert Hall's Elgar Room is not a large space and, despite some poor sight-lines, was in many ways ideal for the very intimate performance from Duprels and Rogé. Performing on a raised platform with just a decorated backdrop, Duprels had only a sheet, a phone and a pair of shoes for props, but she did not need anything else and it was her performance which was truly mesmerising.

La voix humaine is very much about the words (Poulenc adapted the libretto from Jean Cocteau's 1928 play), and hearing a Francophone singer in the title role was a special joy. Though there were English surtitles, you hardly needed them such was the clarity and expressivity of Duprels' performance. Sensitively accompanied by Rogé, Duprels' concentration on the poetry brought a lieder-like intimacy to the performance.

Duprels' heroine was very stylish and poised, and for most of the opera her dialogues with her lover (former lover) sparkled with wit and charm. Without ever resorting to intense histrionics, Duprels magically conveyed the intensity of feeling under the surface, making it clear that this was a performance for the lover's benefit.

Duprels is a very engaging performer, quickly developing our sympathy and we responded to the character's charm. This drew you in, fully engaging us with the character's intense emotional journey, yet entertaining us too. Despite the bleakness of the ending, and the woman's admission that she has already attempted suicide, Duprels did not finish with the cord of the phone around her neck; this was a character who felt the moment deeply and intensely yet would survive.

For all its intimacy, the piano version of La voix humaine does not have the full range of colour that Poulenc brings to his orchestra, but in Rogé's hands we appreciated the remarkable range of expression and colour possible in the piano, yet always at the service of complementing Duprels performance. The piano part does not so much accompany as comment and amplify, providing the emotion which lies underneath the surface.

Mark Valencia gave a witty and informative pre-performance talk, introducing the opera and particularly its background in Jean Cocteau's play.

There was only a single, sold-out, performance and I hope that Opera Holland Park will repeat the experiment and that we get the chance to hear Duprels in this role again.

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