Beyond the Human Voice: Francis Poulenc's Psychological Drama La Voix humaine (1958)

Beyond the Human Voice: Francis Poulenc's Psychological Drama La Voix humaine (1958)

Date: May 2000
Creator: Beard, Cynthia C.
Description: Francis Poulenc's one-character opera La Voix humaine (1958), a setting of the homonymous play by Jean Cocteau, explores the psychological complexities of an unnamed woman as she experiences the end of a romantic relationship. During the forty-minute work, she sings in a declamatory manner into a telephone, which serves as a sign of the unrevealed man at the other end. Poulenc uses musical motives to underscore the woman's changing emotional states as she recalls her past relationship. The musical dramaturgy in this work resignifies Debussy's impressionist symbolism by collapsing devices used in Pelléas et Mélisande in a language that shifts between octatonicism, chromaticism, harmonic and melodic whole tone passages, and diatonicism. This late work recontextualizes elements in Poulenc's Dialogues des Carmélites (1953-56), and the end of the opera provides a theme for his Sonate pour Clarinet et Piano(1962), as Poulenc reflects on his youthful encounters with Cocteau, Erik Satie, and Les Six.
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