There is no doubt that the casting of Lesley Garrett as Elle in La Voix Humaine is the main box office draw for Opera North’s double bill of operatic heartache. It is almost a decade since the popular soprano took a stage operatic role, and this intimate one-woman show, based on the 1930 play by Jean Cocteau, is an ambitious comeback that showcases her talents to the full.
Elle is an ageing actress, struggling miserably to save a dead relationship, from the end of a telephone. We only ever hear her side of the conversation, but we soon realise that her lover is not responding in the way she had hoped. There are shadowy glimpses behind her spot-lit mirror of the man who has broken Elle’s heart and the new women he is soon to marry. Trying to hold on to lost love Elle swings between polite control and grasping hysteria, but we know this cannot end well.
The Lowry’s Lyric theatre is a big stage to fill but Garrett does so with ease. It is a captivating performance, beautifully acted, clearly sung and worth the ticket price alone.
Second on the bill is Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, composed almost 300 years earlier, which echoes the same themes of love, heartbreak and abandonment. Dido (mezzo soprano, Pamela Helen Stephen) is in love with Prince Aeneas, but they cannot be together, a fate which drives her to madness and ultimate death. Stephen has a beautiful richness to her voice which heightens the emotion of the melancholic melodies, while Wyn Davies conducts with a lightness of touch that emphasises the dramatic tension and dynamic range of the work, particularly in the vibrancy of the classical guitar.
Director Aletta Collins, uses the witches and dancers to mirror Dido’s inner torment and dresses them in costumes reflective of the first piece. Both Dido and Elle are most resplendent in red dresses, under which they wear the same black satin slip. The green dressing-gown and red shoes also transfer between the two operas, reminding us that although these women are lifetimes apart, the experience of heartache never changes and never fails to move.
Double Bill: La voix humaine / Dido and Aeneas from Opera North is at The Lowry from 12 March 2013 to 15 March 2013.