La Voix humaine, May 12 to 22, 2016


By Francis Poulenc
Adapted from the play by Jean Cocteau

May 12, 14, 18, and 20, 2016, at 7:30 pm
Sunday, May 22, at 2:30 pm

The Baumann Centre for Pacific Opera Victoria
925 Balmoral Road

A forty-minute one-act opera for soprano and piano
Performed in French with English Surtitles
Followed by a short discussion, hosted by Robert Holliston


Cast and Creative Team

Production Photos


Cast and Creative Team

Elle: Kathleen Brett
Pianist: Robert Holliston
Director: Diana Leblanc
Designer: Patricia Reilly
Stage Manager: Sara Robb

A new presentation in collaboration with Intrepid Theatre's Uno Fest


Production Photos

Pacific Opera Victoria: La Voix humaine, 2016. Kathleen Brett. Photo: David Bukach
Pacific Opera Victoria: La Voix humaine, 2016. Robert Holliston, piano. Kathleen Brett, soprano. Photo: David Bukach
Pacific Opera Victoria: La Voix humaine, 2016. Kathleen Brett. Photo: David Bukach
Pacific Opera Victoria: La Voix humaine, 2016. Kathleen Brett. Photo: David Bukach



  • Pacific Opera Victoria presents an engaging one person show during Uno Fest: This video preview by CHEK TV's Gordie Tupper presents selections from the opera as well as interviews with pianist Robert Holliston and soprano Kathleen Brett.

    Here is Kathleen Brett on the character and the role ...

    "It's a one-act opera about a woman who is having a final conversation with her lover of five years ... What sustains her in the opera is his voice, knowing that when she hangs up, she may never ever hear him again. We see her heart breaking throughout the course of the opera ...
    It's challenging, it's complex, and it's an interesting part, unlike anything I've ever done."   See more.

  • Uno Fest: From humble to high class: Adrian Chamberlain of the Times Colonist previews a few of this year's Uno Fest highlights, including La Voix humaine.

    Also notable is a rare solo opera work, Poulenc's La voix humaine ... "The biggest challenge is making the one side of the conversation believable as a two-way conversation," director Diana Leblanc said. "And using the music to sometimes enhance what she is saying, underscore it. And at other times, letting us imagine what [her lover] might be saying."    Read more.

  • Dialing for Divas: David Lennam of Yam Magazine previews this "modern classic" and interviews director Diana Leblanc.

    Leblanc is famously familiar with the piece, having directed the opera in 2004 as well as acting in Cocteau's play version in 1996.
    "It's nice to return to something you know and love," she says. "You've already done so much of the work ... and you have a point of departure for what you can explore from there."
    Part of the exploration is getting the heartbreak right ... "it's the woman in extremis ... being pulled to the end of what she's capable of and she's being hurt beyond belief, so much so it eventually breaks her."    Read more.



The telephone is sometimes more dangerous than the revolver.

Jean Cocteau

Listen in on the final phone conversation between a woman and her lover.

He has broken up with her after five years and has called as arranged for one final conversation. We hear and see only her side of the conversation as she tries to come to terms with her monumental pain. Even as the telephone connects the lovers, it makes it so much easier to tell lies when the other person cannot see you.

La Voix humaine is a tour de force for a soprano of passion and subtlety who must convey not only the wildly varying emotions of the woman, but let us almost hear in the silences the man on the other end of the line.

Poulenc's score is strikingly expressive, revealing levels of psychological truth and frequently evoking with startling eloquence the unheard half of the conversation.

The opera's themes of technology as a lifeline and a weapon, that both connects and isolates, are more relevant than ever in these days of breakup by email, major life announcements on Facebook, emotional outbursts on Twitter. We may no longer have telephone cords or party lines, but every day we overhear cell-phone conversations and see people obsessively tied to their digital lives


Felicity Lott in La Voix humaine

Above, soprano Felicity Lott discusses La Voix humaine, and we see brief excerpts of her performance in the world premiere recording of the piano version of the opera, released on DVD in 2013, more than 50 years after the 1959 première of the orchestral version.

There are two versions of the opera; one for orchestra and one for solo piano. Poulenc himself frequently performed the piano version with soprano Denise Duval, who had created the role of Elle, but he forbade further performances during his lifetime. For this DVD, the performers (Felicity Lott and pianist Graham Johnson) received special permission from the Poulenc estate to perform the piano version.

Felicity Lott points out how much the piano accompaniment adds to the intimacy: It's lovely to sing it with piano because it is more intimate – you can really whisper.


Francis Poulenc and Denise Duval

La Voix humaine premiered in February 1959, with soprano Denise Duval in the role of Elle. The video above was recorded the following May during a concert in which Poulenc and Duval performed selections from two of Poulenc's operas, Dialogues des Carmélites and La Voix humaine.

In this video excerpt, Poulenc talks about the joke that inspired La Voix humaine and comments on how demanding the role is. Denise Duval then performs a selection from the opera. The host and page-turner is the French musicologist and music critic Bernard Gavoty.

Soprano Denise Duval was an important interpreter of 20th-century French composers, including Poulenc, Debussy, Ravel, and Milhaud. She died January 25, 2016, at the age of 94.




A new presentation in collaboration with Intrepid Theatre's Uno Fest, which celebrates its 19th season of outstanding live theatre May 18-28, 2016.