Saturday 23 March 2013

La Voix Humaine - Felicity Lott and Graham Johnson DVD

CHRBR045 - La Voix Humain - front Cover, Felicity Lott, Graham Johnson, Champs Hill Records
Felicity Lott and Graham Johnson's new DVD of Poulenc's La Voix Humaine was given its first public outing last night (22 March 2013) at the Institut Francais in London as part of their It's All About Piano festival which runs until Sunday 24 March. The showing of the DVD was followed by a discussion between James Jolly and the performers. The DVD is released on the Champs Hill Records label. Though Poulenc himself performed the work accompanying Denise Duval on the piano, he forbade further performances of the piano version and it is in orchestral guise that Poulenc's setting of Jean Cocteau's play is best known. For this DVD, the performers received special permission from the Poulenc estate to perform the French version.

The first surprise of the film was quite how well the piano version works, Except in one or two moments, you hardly miss the orchestra particularly with the skill of Johnson's long understanding of Poulenc's music. Using that piano version has another advantage; talking to Dame Felicity Lott afterwards, she commented that just having a piano accompaniment meant that she could be far more intimate. Without an orchestra to project over, it was possible for her to be more realistically confiding on the telephone.

At the Q&A afterwards, there was some discussion of how the work's logistics, with the heroine and her lover constantly being cut off, working with the modern mobile phone. But Graham Johnson said that they had felt that much of the work, with the dependence on being cut off, interruptions from others on the party line and constant interjections of the operator, needed to be in period.

So, though the recording was done in the music room at Champs Hill, Lott performs on a period dressed set (real furniture, props and pictures but dead black walls) and most of the action is in and around a chaise longue on which Lott's Elle is reclining whilst phoning on the wonderful period candlestick phone.

You never see Graham Johnson, the film is done real time as if eaves-dropping on Elle and the marvel is that this works. Such is Lott's command of the role and genre, that the piece feels far more like a film of someone, you are never aware of the artifice involve. She is not so much acting as living the role. The use of piano means that balance is superb and Lott's voice still sounds wonderfully ageless, and is intensely and finely expressive.

There was some discussion also about the age/maturity of the performer in the work. Whilst Jean Cocteau's Elle is a young woman, Graham Johnson felt that Poulenc had put a lot of himself in the role, the composer was around 60 when he wrote the piece; so that it works brilliantly for a maturer performer as you feel that she really is putting part of her life behind her.

Felicity Lott has recorded the opera, in its orchestral version, but this is the first time she has been filmed in the role. We are lucky that she has been so caught, and I look forward to the DVD immensely.

Further information about the DVD (released later this month) from the Champs Hill Records website. 

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