La Voix Humaine is an audacious undertaking. The opera has one character played by four women, each based in their own small room. The audience move down a hallway and visit each room in turn, following a desperate conversation sung down the phone.
Visually, it’s striking. The first room is deep crimson, the next light-red, then pink, and finally white. As the colour exsanguinates, so too does the relationship being portrayed seem drained of love.
The idea of “opera” might suggest three-day Wagnerian song cycles sung in Plautdietsch with a cast of hundreds that that lasts three days, but here we have a small sonic curio, sung in recitative-style that lasts just 45 minutes.
There are intriguing plays with the form, but it’s structure and staging is also a weakness. The sheer pragmatics of the exercise – stopping, following the surtitle projector as it’s wheeled into the next room, keyboard shuffling down the hall, audience moving and squeezing into place – lends the character on display and over-arching story a certain level of incoherence.
However, once each piece begins, it’s captivating. Standing close to a performer doesn’t guarantee intimacy, but there’s something compelling about watching someone sing opera from one metre away. Despite the difficulties, the show pulls you in. You only wish it worked to keep you there.
La Voix Humaine
The Carlton Club, 193 Bourke Street, Melbourne
Performance: Monday 25 September 2017 – 7.30pm
Season continues to 30 September 2017
Information and Bookings: www.melbournefringe.com.au
Image: courtesy of BK Opera
Review: David Collins