Saturday, December 5, 2015

Friday night III: La Voix Humaine

La Voix Humaine is an opera for one voice. Alone. I have never encountered such a thing, but this was curious and fascinating and jarring. The production I saw featured very stark scenery --- an ornately tiled floor and a single white sofa --- and a straight-overhead camera view, which was projected on the backdrop. This gave an unsettling double-view of Barbara Hannigan in the role of "Elle" (simply: Her), who threw her body across the stage in sprawling and unusual configurations.

The opera's premise is that She is talking on the phone, and so at first it seems natural, and intimate, that we see Her sprawl on the floor, drape herself across the sofa, lunge, and flop as one does when engaged in a protracted phone call, meandering across the stage as the topic of conversation wanders. The doubled view, once from the front and once from squarely above, makes the single performer fill the space; her every gesture seems significant, and the way her limbs trail behind her voice, aligning with patterns in the floor-tiles one moment and then skewing disorderly across them the next.

The music is dissonant and bizarre, which pretty accurately reflects the way it feels to hear only one half of a not-particularly-discursive intimate phone call. This discomfort is enhanced by the frequent breaks where the call is interrupted or dropped, and has to be re-established; the phone rings, the orchestra beeps and plucks. I never really felt like any songs happened, just a sort of long series of short bursts of tones and phrases, although I leave this categorization to the musical experts.

It was great. The staging of this production gradually suggests, and then strongly suggests, and then outright reveals, that She is an unreliable narrator --- even though we are watching her, as she describes her actions, there is a weirdly discordant process happening. I found it very engaging, but I was also nervous the entire time, faintly on edge about what would happen. Continually reevaluating what happened earlier, what she said, what it sounded like, how she moved, and comparing with my current version of events. The music definitely reinforced this tension. The Wikipedia plot summary does not reflect the plot of the version I saw; this production used the same libretto, but told a much darker story with a definite conclusion.

I don't want to spoil it, because I hold unreliable narrators in great esteem. I enjoyed watching it once, but I don't have any particular desire to watch it again; too tense.

This post's theme word logomarchy, "a dispute about words," or "a battle fought with words." Beware the telephonic logomarchy.

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