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It is a bold presentation by Opera North to include this piece for the first time in its new season [first performance 3 November 2006, Grand Theatre, Leeds, UK], and to have Joan Rodgers in the role of the woman. She is strong and appealing, but there is something not quite commanding enough, not quite French enough about her portrayal. In the hands of one of those great Parisian chanteuse, one would no doubt be moved to tears by this young woman (it is not an elderly lady losing her past) desperately trying to hold together the optimistic love of the rest of her long life.

Joan Rodgers in Poulenc's 'La voix humaine'. Photo © 2006 Clive Barda
Joan Rodgers in Poulenc's 'La voix humaine'. Photo © 2006 Clive Barda

But Rodgers, beautiful and efficient and vocally so impressive, did not quite tear at one's guts. Perhaps it was because it was performed in a good English translation by Richard Stokes, but without that we would not have followed the unfolding tragedy. There were occasional French words that gave an artificial flavour, but it was still in English -- and the English don't quite act like that in the traditional drama. It may also have been Tom Pye's over elaborate setting, the bathroom fittings, dressing table, vivid under floor lighting and large bed in disarray, most of which proved something of a dramatic distraction, for darkness would have sufficed had Deborah Warner's direction decided upon it. Nonetheless, the visual imagery had a startling impact.

Joan Rodgers in 'La voix humaine'. Photo © 2006 Clive Barda
Joan Rodgers in 'La voix humaine'. Photo © 2006 Clive Barda

The orchestra, directed by Paul Watkins, gave a fine account of the poignant and often voluptuous score. The piece comes to London's Sadler's Wells Theatre on 22 and a second performance there on 24 November 2006 will also feature a public discussion between Joan Rodgers and director Deborah Warner on 'the phenomenon of the solo voice'.

Copyright © 11 November 2006 Patric Standford, Wakefield UK

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JOAN RODGERS

OPERA NORTH

SADLER'S WELLS

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