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Review: La Voix Humaine and Dido and Aeneas, Opera North, Newcastle Theatre Royal

AN intriguing double bill presents us with lovelorn women - and musical styles - from across the ages.

Soprano Lesley Garrett
Soprano Lesley Garrett

AN intriguing double bill presents us with lovelorn women - and musical styles - from across the ages.

La Voix Humaine, by Frenchman Francis Poulenc and dating from 1959, sees Lesley Garrett making an arresting return to the operatic stage.

It’s a solo show – albeit a short one, at 40 minutes – so it’s all about her.

The curtain rises on her facing us through the mirror’s frame, her chic blonde wig a surprise for those who expect the auburn locks.

These emerge later as her character, Elle, slides into mental meltdown.

The phone rings – a xylophone’s tinkle. “Hello?” sings Lesley, quietly desperate. Not a very musical word. Cue woodwind blast. Wrong number. It rings again. And so it goes on.

Poulenc’s creation charts a night of yearning and desolation, a discordant, staccato thing, full of tense emotion.

But Lesley Garrett’s performance, measured and full of pathos, holds the attention. The bounder messing up her life appears sometimes in a two-way mirror, on one occasion clutching a showy blonde.

Elle has long since lost her own crisp blondeness. The brown hair’s a mess, the make-up’s running, she’s on the bed. The singing, though, remains disciplined, though edgy and affecting. The applause is deserved.

After the interval comes a different sound as Purcell’s opera from the 17th Century brings us lute, harpsichord and more mellifluous tones.

There’s a mighty chorus under the stage and, above it, yet another bed bearing yet another anguished woman. Actually, two or three.

Dido, Queen of Carthage, is gently nudged into a kind of romance with Troy’s Prince Aeneas although it never really catches fire.

The set could be along the street from Elle’s dressing room, the costumes – red, green – echoing the previous production.

From time to time the stage is full of women in long chestnut wigs – singers and dancers playing sorceresses and witches. It’s fun working out which witch is which.

One of the women is Dido, sung with grace by Pamela Helen Stephen. Loved the look, loved the music, can’t really tell you what was going on ... and they were singing in English!

Opera North are here all week. See this double bill again on Friday.


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