Poulenc’s La voix humaine is as a rather peculiar little piece. It’s only 40 minutes long and it features a single singer, a soprano. It’s not exactly a monologue as what we hear is one end of a telephone conversation with implied contributions from the woman’s lover, the telephone operator, the lover’s manservant etc. A lot of what happens is an artefact of the French telephone system at the time (1928) that Cocteau wrote the play that supplies the libretto with operators, party lines, dropped calls etc.
There are two versions of the opera; one for orchestra and one for solo piano. Poulenc was not keen on the piano version being recorded, though he performed it often, so it’s only recently that the estate has given permission for a recording. It’s a studio made film with Felicity Lott singing and Graham Johnson at the piano. The set is a room in a bourgeois apartment in the 1920s and it’s filmed straightforwardly and simply by Steve Plant. The whole thing turns on Flott’s ability to create drama out of one end of a telephone. This she does very effectively as we hear the story of a very bad break up seen from the point of view of the person dumped. It’s actually quite hard to watch at times such is the power of the performance. No surprises that the music making from both parties is also of a very order since they have worked together on this piece for years.
The disk package is peculiar in some ways. It says DVD and Blu-ray on the box but my library copy only had the DVD in it. Even on that the picture quality is extremely good. So is the sound though the only option is stereo which is very odd on a modern DVD. Also there are no track breaks. The documentation includes a couple of essays and the full libretto in French and English which are also the only subtitle options.
This is probably pretty much the definitive performance of the piano version and it’s well captured on disk.