Not every operatic production opens with its solitary diva slipping into your hotel room, latching the door behind her.
This was Fiona McAndrew's entrance tonight, playing the distraught Elle in Poulenc's The Human Voice, the final presentation for the year from Opera New Zealand.
Signing off a season that has already chosen boardrooms and cathedrals over theatres, a bedroom in the city's Hotel DeBrett lends its own claustrophobic atmosphere to this portrait of an emotionally frayed woman, unravelling in a 45-minute telephone conversation with her ex-lover. Director Thomas de Mallet Burgess has approached this 1958 monodrama as an emotional "fly on the wall" drama, seeking total audience immersion as just 20 of us sit within metres of his central protagonist. And it worked. McAndrew, familiar with the role having recorded it for the ABC, inhabits it with an ease and naturalness that would have won over its composer. Singing in English yet maintaining the very Gallic grace of Poulenc's phrasing, the Australian soprano subtly takes Elle through all the mood swings that drive her to a deadly cocktail of pills and liquor.
Here and there, heightened speech is chosen rather than the notes on the page but it adds a welcome vernacular immediacy. Occasional surges of passion bring momentary vocal strain that touches rather than alarms. Again, it fits well with McAndrew's characterisation. Best of all, her gauging of vocal intensity is perfect for a small venue.
This presentation lacks Poulenc's colourful orchestration, experienced in 2010 when this work was staged by Auckland Opera Studio and Auckland Chamber Orchestra. Yet in this performance, pianist David Kelly, in the adjoining bathroom, is a deft substitute.While there's no denying the success of The Human Voice, it seems a shame that more Aucklanders couldn't enjoy it in one of the city's more modest theatrical spaces.
What: The Human Voice
Where: Hotel DeBrett
Reviewer: William Dart