La Voix Humaine review – intimate invitation to a lover's betrayal

An apartment, Penarth
Claire Booth gives an unforgettably intense performance as the abandoned mistress in Welsh National Opera’s stylish immersive Poulenc/Cocteau staging

L is falling apart, newly abandoned by her lover. The pain of her betrayal – an experience so universal as to be part of the human condition – is audible in every gesture, every inflection of the voice. Francis Poulenc’s 1958 setting of Jean Cocteau’s phone-monologue, La Voix Humaine, is one of the hardest tests for a soprano and, in this new production – Welsh National Opera’s contribution to the Wales Millennium Centre’s Festival of VoiceClaire Booth makes it wholly unforgettable.

It’s a test for the audience too, as director David Pountney creates a piece of immersive theatre in an intimate space. The conceit is that L invites a handful of guests to a party in her new home – a stylish apartment overlooking the sea, with a view to die for – to help bolster her mood, temporarily forget. The edgy atmosphere takes on a frisson of horror when her lover rings her mobile to tell her of his marriage next day: from that moment, our immediate proximity to L is appalling for involving us implicitly. Yet, helpless against the rising force of her emotions, we are ultimately complicit in her disintegration.

Claire Booth … ‘the audience is complicit in her disintegration’.
Claire Booth … ‘the audience is complicit in her disintegration’. Photograph: Polly Thomas

Poulenc’s score is heard in the piano reduction, Christopher Glynn’s eloquent playing relayed over the sound system; but, with Booth’s expressiveness so intense, the colours of the voice so beautiful, this doesn’t feel virtual but all too real. Booth throws back the pills with abandon, not fearing to choke. Her eventual collapse is shattering, her guests file out as though from a funeral.


Rian Evans

The GuardianTramp

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