La Voix

Francis Poulenc

Liric tragedy in one act
Libretto: Jean Cocteau
World premiere: 9 February 1905, Opéra Comique, Paris
Premiere: 16 April 2016
Piano version

In the original French with Polish surtitles

All the greatest artists sat in opium fumes, in clouds of smoke in the cafés of Montparnasse: Picasso, Apollinaire, Diaghilev. Jean Cocteau, who in 1930 wrote the forty-minute monodrama La voix humaine (The Human Voice) for Berthe Bovy, was another regular. So was Francis Poulenc, who wrote the music to Cocteau’s piece in 1958. He composed it for his good friend Denise Duval, who said: “This is a very difficult score; by comparison, Butterfly and Tosca are easy – I know, for I’ve sung them all”. It’s probably due to problems with casting the only part that the opera is very seldom staged. This is more a role for a singing actress than an opera singer. Yet Joanna Woś, the opera singer whom director Maja Kleczewska chose for her premiere, is brilliant. In Kleczewska’s production, film is superimposed on theatre, the face of Joanna Woś as she aimlessly drives around the city – on her onstage acting, moving among cars, her phone ringing in her bag and her anxiety mounting after the breakup, waiting for her lover’s voice and his words. After the accident the aesthetics of the street turns into an aesthetics of a horror story: blood, ghosts, the footsteps of a white Thanatos, a string of beads tightening around the neck. Because, “you can always sleep the first night after breaking up, but how do you sleep the next night? And the night after that?”.




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    Of Her and Him we know little. We know they were in love, the relationship lasted five years, they have a dog, they wrote letters to each other that are now kept in one bag. We know He has a new girlfriend. We know they took a trip to Versailles and Marseille. We also know that She tried to commit suicide. That her life was saved thanks to her best friend Marthe. That it happened on the night preceding the telephone conversation we are witnessing.

    Let’s imagine that she doesn’t want to be at home alone tonight, she gets in the car and drives around. A strange woman keeps calling her. She keeps hearing the same voice on the phone. Wrong number. This wrong number call will return many times tonight. Finally she gets the call she’s been waiting for all night, the call from Him. She drives around the city at night and hears his voice, just like every day for the past five years. The voice is like air, the conversation brings back memories, they can laugh together again and talk about how they spent the day. But they also have to talk about what’s important now, about giving back things, about what’s necessary when you split up. So, it’s about when, at what time, who will hand over what to whom – all those mundane things it’s so hard to talk about. They also have to say things the other person wants to hear: ‘I’m fine’, ‘everything’s okay’,  ‘just shopping/cooking dinner/making plans for the weekend’. The connection breaks down. She calls back. She calls his home number. He said he was at home, that he was going to bed, but he isn’t at home and he won’t come back for the night. A moment’s inattention. Too much speed, losing control of the car. A crash. The telephone rings again.

    From this moment on the conversation is different. The shock of the accident, which she won’t tell him about, pain, fear, everything starts overlapping: images of him with his lover, bodies scattered across the road, the sound of the crash, a terrible headache. The ambulance hasn’t come, there’s no doctor, no one has called the police. Sitting on the hard shoulder is a lonely business, you’re surrounded by visions or ghosts, not quite sure if what you’re experiencing is real or maybe just a dream. Maybe this is that brief moment, that thin thread to which remnants of consciousness, feelings, memory stick, to which they cling before falling into the abyss.


  • Patron of Teatr Wielki - Polish National Opera

  • Partners of Teatr Wielki – Polish National Opera

  • Media patrons of Teatr Wielki – Polish National Opera

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