This production of La Voix Humaine marks Lesley Garrett’s return to the operatic stage after an eight year absence. As she flits around a dingy dressing room, anxiously trying to maintain a conversation with the lover who is leaving her despite the difficulties of crossed lines and crossed meanings, her vocals and her presence shine.
It’s an accomplished performance of an intense opera that is at times painful to watch: the emotion is so palpable and Garrett so vulnerable that the audience feels like an unwelcome voyeur at times. Aletta Collins does rob the production of some subtlety with the addition of visual effects that are a little crude and on the whole unnecessary, though.
From the moment the curtain rises on Dido and Aeneas, it’s clear this production has focussed heavily on the visual. The set is like an optical illusion, all black, white and grey with stark lines, dark arches and a depth that seems impossible.
The pale, red-headed Dido and the lookalike sorceress and dancers look ethereal and other-worldly. The expressive choreography complements the music and the story effectively, and the chorus hidden in the orchestra pit add depth and shade to the sound.
The overall effect is of the same vulnerable beauty that echoes in Pamela Helen Stephen’s gorgeous vocal performance. Heather Shipp plays a deliciously hateable Sorceress, and actually the flinty dislike between her and Dido outdoes the patchy chemistry between Dido and Phillip Rhodes’ Aeneas.
The two pieces are drawn together with a few unifying images: a bottle of pills angrily emptied, a woman looking into a mirror, a black negligee. All in all, this double bill makes for an enjoyable and at times thrilling experience.
Pic: Lesley Garrett as Elle.
Photo: Tristram Kenton
21 and 23 February 2013, The Grand Theatre & Opera House, Leeds