Review: Hanging On the Telephone – La voix humaine at Opera Theatre
It’s hard to move on when you can’t stop looking back. This is especially true for Elle, the center figure in the tragic La voix humaine. Based on a play by Jean Cocteau, Francis Poulenc’s scarcely performed opera about love, life, loss and death is eerily relevant in the time of a global pandemic.
Unofficially dubbed “the Patricia Racette power hour,” La voix humaine (the third production of Opera Theatre of St. Louis’ 2021 outdoor season) is a one-act rollercoaster that examines how new love, old flames, and the muddled feelings in between can leave someone emotionally reeling.
As the opera opens Elle, a woman whose spirit has been broken by the end of a passionate affair, is awaiting a call from her former lover. Dressed in black to represent mourning, she desperately wishes to reconcile and restore the love they once had.
After a series of wrong numbers, Elle finally speaks to her beloved. Filled with dropped connections and awkward exchanges, she quickly learns that conversing with an ex-lover can problematic.
Loaded with regret, nostalgia, and lost passion, their conversation and reflection lead to startling revelations that she is to blame for their split. As the evening wears on she also confides in her former partner that she tried to overdose with sleeping pills the night before, only to have her life saved by her friend Martha who smartly called the doctor from her building. Arriving in time to save her, Elle finds herself again facing the trauma of lost love.
Symbolizing their great disconnect, their conversations are the last tangible link to the love she once had. Plagued by dropped calls and bad reception, her agony is amplified by the discovery that her former paramour has moved on, her emotional state frays further, leading to a dramatic crescendo of intense emotion.
Adapted from its original French version by Racette and creative consultant Beth Clayton, this one-woman show about suffering is framed by pianist Sunny Yoon, whose beautiful score creates a powerful template for the despair and wrenching agony on stage.
Directed by and starring Racette, a soprano of ferocious magnitude, La voix humaine is a tragic affair of the heart that leaves audiences emotionally exhausted. At its core is a commanding performance from Racette whose magnetism and unparalleled talent will the opera into existence with stunning results.
Performances are held outside, on the parking lot of Webster University, near the Loretto-Hilton Center. For tickets, showtimes, and more information visit http://www.opera-stl.org.
Photo credit: Eric Woolsey.