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Elle, the jilted lover at the end of a telephone line in Poulenc’s monodrama, does not need beautiful looks.
Nor is it essential to have a pristine voice. But there’s one thing she can’t do without: she must have the ability to bare her heart.
I can think of several sopranos who manage that in other parts – Amanda Roocroft’s recent Jenufa in London, for example – but Joan Rodgers has never been one of them.
She is pretty, she has a well- schooled voice. As Elle she flashes her elegant legs and gives an ample show of bosom.
But her heart remains shut and we don’t feel a thing – in a piece that, by the end of its 45-minute span, should have us gutted.
There are few opportunities to experience La voix humaine in the theatre because not many companies will bet their box office on one soprano’s appeal.
Opera North prepared the ground with its season of one-acters a couple of years ago, and Rodgers has an established following there.
But she is miscast, and it’s hard not to see this as anything but a vanity project – not so much for Rodgers as for Deborah Warner, whose reputation as an opera director mystifies me.
Warner and her designers, Tom Pye and Jean Kalman, dilute the impact of Elle’s nervous breakdown by opening up the stage, swamping it with domestic chic and drowning everything in light.
All this piece needs is a double bed, a spotlight and a soprano who sounds alarmed when she is cut off and melts when reconnected to the man who has dumped her.
Rodgers looks like a peroxide blonde, behaves like a spoilt housewife and sounds breathtakingly controlled.
Her “act” is further dissipated by a flickering overhead screen and an English translation that keeps reverting to French. But there’s good role-playing from the orchestra under Paul Watkins.
On tour, including Sadler’s Wells, London, November
22 & 24