La Voix Humaine (up close) - Week 3

With less than a week to go before opening night, La Voix Humaine is really starting to come together. As lighting plans, director’s notes, set and publicity all begin to unite and polish the show, what strikes me most is how the libretto and the musicality have been performing a similar balancing act all along. It is fascinating to see (or hear? or both?) the interplay of music and libretto – and how both are as equally important for characterisation. Coming from a classical theatre background, it was my assumption that words are always the primary source of character, but now I am amazed at how a short silence from the piano, between a couple of violent trills, can do as much as a monologue. I can now recognise that the music is both an extension of Elle’s moods and thoughts, as well as constantly mimicking a telephone conversation. It's fascinating to see discussions about character, intention and what the other person is saying on the end of the phone - improvising the scene and then seeing that scene with the music after it's been discussed and analysed. You can really see and hear all the little nuances and character decisions Sarah has made coming through in the performance and it's amazing to see!

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The biggest change to our rehearsal process this week has been marking the layout of the set. The opera takes place within a single flat, and although it is never stated in the libretto, Robin felt that Elle should be wandering around her small apartment throughout. But how to stage that? We cannot have traditional ‘flats’ onstage, as these are large, opaque and ungainly. We cannot build an apartment either, as there would be too much to obscure Sarah, and too much sound-absorbing material. Kate’s fantastic design avoids both pitfalls. The apartment is represented instead by cage-like panels, which form a fractured and geometrical approximation of a home. The set will look industrial, minimalist, and hopefully quite eerie when we combine it with glaring LED lights and a high-gloss floor. The parallels with a prison cell or an inhumane asylum are not lost on any of us. By taping out the layout, this has been useful for Sarah as she can prepare for moving in the space when at King's Place, it also adds more dimensions scenographically. Having an old-fashioned telephone prop also helps – for obvious reasons!

With only six days to go until opening night, and such a strong showing from the design and creative teams this week, it looks poised to be a fantastic evening. The only thing missing is you - see you on Sunday!

By James Osman, Assistant Director on La Voix Humaine. 

Click here for more information about the production. 

La Voix Humaine (up close) - Week 2

The second week of rehearsals for La Voix Humaine has been incredibly productive. The first day we recorded a podcast at Kings Place – designed to be distributed as part of our newsletter, and offering an insight into life inside the rehearsal room. It was a fantastic way to organise your thoughts into sound bites and to hear the other members of the team talk about their experiences, too. It was also brilliant to see the performance space – Hall Two, King’s Place – for the first time, and to properly visualise our set and blocking on the stage. Seeing the Steinway in all its glory wasn’t bad either!

In addition to rehearsing the show, and perfecting moments of dramatic or musical note, the creative team also discussed the piece in a broader context – from how to continue our publicity push and describe our aims within our programme, to the difference between our version of La Voix Humaine, and those that the audience may have seen before. One marked difference is that we are using Poulenc’s first orchestration – for soprano and piano – which was completed four months before he went on to write the score for a full orchestra. Seeing the height of the space and the raised stage only adds to this sense of sparseness – and the dwarfing of the performer and the music compared to the vastness of the space, and the things that the character of Elle is up against.

Later in the week, we went through our libretto/score and imagined what Elle would be hearing through the earpiece of her telephone. As the entire opera consists of a phone call – interrupted, disconnected, and punctuated – it is very important for the creative team to ensure that they are all imagining the same conversation. Our fabulous performer, Sarah, must act opposite and react to someone who isn’t there – so, at this stage of the process, reading in our agreed-upon responses gives her something to bounce off, and helps cement a truly responsive performance.

Alongside our decision to ‘cast’ Elle’s lover as a female – thus making Elle a lesbian living through ‘The Mad Years’ of 1920s and 30s Paris – the imagined responses she hears have drastically altered the performance from the one we saw during our first run-through. Elle is warmer, kinder, and less hysterical – and she has a huge amount of societal pressure and censure to overcome. This week has, in short, been an exercise in taking a sparse, almost empty space, and filling in the blanks. It feels like we are very much on track to creating the emotionally-honest, and heart-breaking show we originally set out to do. I look forward to keeping informed of this coming week’s work.

By James Osman, Assistant Director on La Voix Humaine. 

Click here for more information about this production. 

La Voix Humaine (Up Close)

La Voix Humaine - Week One

Hello there, I'm James and this is my first entry in a short weekly blog to document my involvement as the Trainee Assistant Director for OperaUpClose's production of La Voix Humaine - Cocteau's operatic adaptation of Poulenc's play of the same name. I have previously directed amateur productions, and performed in professional ones, but this is my first time behind the scenes in a professional operatic production - and what a fantastic opportunity it is!

My first love is classical theatre, and I don’t really have more than a novice understanding of opera, but the piece is already looking and sounding great, and it’s both humbling and inspiring to be around so many incredibly talented and dedicated people. The first meeting was a run of the show for the assembled crew and creatives. In traditional opera performances, the audience aren't usually as close to the action I was in our little rehearsal space, and sitting only an arm's length away from pianist, Richard Black, and performer, Sarah Minns, was quite unique - a dazzling experience for me.

The second rehearsal was quite different, but very productive, with a focus on R&D. Director Robin Norton-Hale, and myself, went through the chronology of the play and identified the facts established in the text. We had to do this to ensure that the production will be true to the author and composer’s intentions, and that any creative decisions made are informed by the world established by Poulenc and Cocteau.

I came to the rehearsal with some contextual research on 1930s Paris, and, because of Robin Norton-Hale's unique take on the text - an exploration of LGBTQ relationship politics of the time. This is, perhaps, the most interesting thing about the early stages of this production - although the words remain the same as Poulenc's (excusing slight variants through translation), we are rehearsing this opera with a twist - the male lover on the end of the phone is actually a woman. Quite how much this will change the production remains to be seen. Regardless, I found the process of researching this subject very enjoyable and hope to have added some dramaturgical value to the rehearsal space.

It will also be useful for us to reflect our findings back onto our approach to the performance -helping the director and production team with ideas about how we might use scenography, staging, or lighting to establish a mood, time and place that would accurately reflect the world of 1930s Paris, the world of the apartment, and the world inside the leading lady's head. The fact that my ideas are accepted in the dramaturgical process is a testament to the inclusive work environment this incredibly experienced team have created.

However, the most eye-opening thing I learned today is that although an opera is sung, the backstory and characterisation is just as important as in my beloved classical theatre. The theatrical process we are going on is no different - the characters in an opera are as full and rounded as in any play. As my understanding and appreciation of this wonderful art form increases, I cannot wait to see how the research, the rehearsals, the design, and (most importantly, of course!) the direction begins to shape La Voix Humaine into the fantastic show I know it's going to be.

I look forward to letting you know more, next week.


La Voix Humaine will premiere at Kings Place on 2 July, for more details click here