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.
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