The Human Voice/La Voix Humaine (Norwich – Hostry Festival)
Cocteau wrote his monologue in 1930. Poulenc composed his operatic version 30 years later.
Heartbreak is not gender-specific. But it can, however, be immensely theatrical as well as emotionally overpowering. For this double-bill at the Hostry Festival, director Adrian Drew has paired Cocteau's 1930 original with the 1959 setting by Poulenc.
Boito's reduction of Shakespeare's Othello for Verdi's Otello stands as the benchmark of filleting one masterpiece's five acts and many words into four-acts and another major work. Cocteau acted as his own librettist for Poulenc's opera; the verbal compression allied to the unforgiving score creats an experience which is indeed heart-searing.
Drew sets both the play and the opera at the date of their creation. So Susan Seddon plays the woman whose lover of five years (the inference is that he is younger than her) is on the brink of marriage to someone else as a satin-nightgowned, marcel-waved sophisticate.
Lisa Cassidy offers a younger woman, someone balanced between Dior's New Look and Courrèges' A-Line. That doesn't make her agony any the less valid as she copes with the vagaries of the Pais telephone system, her desperate desire to keep him at odds with the reality of a man who has already moved on and out.
Both performers ratchet up the intensity in their characterisations with Cassidy (and her accompanist William Ferguson) having a slight lead over Seddon's full-length spoken version. But that's because music has the property of being able to express what words alone cannot always achieve.
A thoroughly worthwhile as well as interesting experience – just what a festival such as the Hostry one should be staging.
The Human Voice/La Voix Humaine is at The Narthex, St John the Baptist RC Cathedral, Norwich on 31 October.