Review: La Voix Humaine ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Musicals and opera

La Voix Humaine

Quaker Meeting House, v40

18:45 (ends 10 August, not 6, 8)

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ (5 stars)

I’m running out of superlatives – this is my third five-star show today…and it could hardly be more different from the first two. Portuguese soprano Filipa Portela gave a stunning performance of Poulenc’s one-act opera, showing extreme emotional and physical versatility in the role of ‘Elle’ [Her], superbly accompanied by award-winning pianist Kristine Donnan – both names to look out for in future.

A woman is alone, asleep on a chaise longue. The phone rings, she struggles to wake up, to realise where she is and to whom she is talking. Her near-despair when she realises the line is crossed with someone who’s trying to talk to a completely different person with a very similar number, and her confused and distracted behaviour, alert us to the fact that all is not well.

When the phone rings again, and it is her ‘chéri’, the one-sided conversation slowly reveals fragments of information, and she swings from elation to despair and back again, her voice and the words she utters often in complete contradiction to her actions. She protests that all is well, that she’s just dined with her friend Marthe, and is wearing her pink frock – but we can see that she is dressed in a nightgown. A separation has taken place, and it seems that her lover is with someone else – the only link between them is the fragile one of the telephone cord, which at times she winds round her neck, as though by doing so she can still feel him near her, still linked to her by his voice. She confesses that she has tried to commit suicide, and reassures him that she won’t make another attempt – but when finally he hangs up, can we believe her?

It’s an amazing piece which requires an extremely accomplished actor and singer to realise it. Filipa Portela not only sang exquisitely: she directed and produced the piece as well, creating a stunning piece of theatre and portraying someone in a tempestuous relationship full of drama and conflict as well as tenderness and shared moments of joy, one in which the lover ceases to exist outwith the beloved’s presence and yet in their presence is tormented by the knowledge that they must part.

Both performers richly deserved their prolonged applause. There are only two more performances: don’t miss them!

Mary Woodward