Grange Park Opera Found Season
La Voix Humaine
Soprano: Claire Booth
Piano: Christopher Glynn
The Son of a Farmer
Bass-baritone: Bryn Terfel at home
Harp: Hannah Stone
For Wasfi Kani, the unstoppable founder of Grange Park Opera, even a pandemic is only a temporary setback.
As soon as she had accepted this summer’s country house opera season at The Theatre in the Woods was lost, she set about mobilising the “pandemicists” and amassing funding for a Found season.
With characteristic ambition and flair, rather than broadcasting old performances, Kani has conjured a six-week season featuring world class artists creating new work either from their homes or on the stage at West Horsley Place, Surrey.
The theatre itself represents another of Kani’s miraculous come-backs as it’s the home she found after having to leave The Grange in Hampshire in 2016.
The Found season kicks off with soprano Claire Booth as the everywoman named simply Elle in Poulenc’s La Voix Humaine. Based on Jean Cocteau’s 1928 deliberately pared-back play featuring the distraught final telephone conversation between an abandoned woman and her former lover, Poulenc’s 1958 opera could have been written for lockdown times when, for many, the telephone represents the only chance to hear another human voice.
It’s a soul-searching performance whose raw emotional strength, bordering on fury, derives in part from the frustrations currently endured by musicians, who as Booth openly declares in an accompanying interview, have been thrown into questioning the choice of a career that had always been a vocation that defined their sense of self.
As a work, La Voix Humaine poses issues for today’s emancipated working woman. It’s the cri de Coeur of a jilted lover for whom life without her man is an unbearable prospect and it is the creation of two male giants of the cultural establishment.
At the same time, it makes exceptional demands on a soprano, regarded by Poulenc as a co-composer in his blend of recitative and impassioned lyricism.
Booth’s Elle, keeps us rapt for 40 intense minutes from a soaring “allo” poured into the mouthpiece of an old-fashioned red telephone to the final tragic hanging up.
Poulenc’s opera was scored for full symphony orchestra. Lockdown constraints mean the accompaniment is pianist Christopher Glynn whose immaculate playing is almost stoical compared with Booth’s beside-herself emotionalism.
The pair, scrupulously socially-distanced, performs against an appropriate backdrop of an old-fashioned red telephone booth and we also see a glimpse of the empty seats where there should be a picnic-filled audience dressed in their finery.
If that’s all too tragic, turn to the next in the summer Found season with Bryn Terfel performing in the comfort of his Welsh home, accompanied by his wife, harpist Hannah Stone.
Standing in front of a publicity poster for Falstaff at La Scala, he promises he will be singing Falstaff for Grange Park Opera next year.
For now, he charms us with half an hour of songs on the theme of stars, beginning with All Through the Night in Welsh, continuing with Debussy and Wagner and “from the sublime to the sublime,” as Terfel has it, Les Miserables. Resounding as always, Terfel then gives himself an encore Trade Winds by James Frederick Keel. He tells us, he was introduced to this effortless music by his singing teacher who told him: “Bryn, don’t sing opera, sing songs.” It’s advice that set him on course to connect with every kind of audience, even in lockdown.
Barbara Lewis © 2020.