Poulenc Double Bill
‘No sir, you will command me no more...’. A woman on the brink of ending it all; another just beginning
About the opera
A woman on the brink of ending it all; another just beginning
Director Laurent Pelly joins conductor Robin Ticciati for a French double-bill that opens with tragic heartbreak and ends with a riotous, surreal comedy.
Alone in her apartment, a woman talks to her former lover on the telephone. She teases, flirts, promises, lies and pleads. Finally, telling him again and again that she loves him, she drops the receiver…
Poulenc’s La Voix humaine is opera distilled down to its essence: a musical monologue of searing intensity.
Frustrated with her life as a housewife, Thérèse transforms herself into a man and heads out into the world, leaving her husband at home to take care of the baby-making. Exploding with musical invention, combining everything from patter songs to Broadway numbers, chorales and lyrical arias, Poulenc’s Les Mamelles de Tirésias is a giddy romp of an opera that throws questions of politics, gender and society up into the air and watches them shatter into hundreds of glittering pieces.
A new production for Festival 2022. Sung in French with English supertitles.
Laurent Pelly in collaboration with Jean-Jacques Delmotte
London Philharmonic Orchestra
The Glyndebourne Chorus
Florence Daguerre de Hureaux
Based on a translation by
The Parisian Journalist
The Newspaper Seller
The Elegant Lady
The Bearded Man
* Soloist from The Glyndebourne Chorus
Musical editions: La Voix humaine – Ricordi Paris | Les Mamelles de Tirésias – Édition Heugel Wise Music Group
La Voix humaine
A woman, Elle, is alone in her apartment. The phone rings. After several wrong connections, finally she hears the voice of her ex on the line. Gradually we learn details of their relationship and their recent break-up.
Elle blames herself, and admits that she attempted suicide the night before. They talk and we hear her slipping from flirtation to anger, nostalgia to desperation and pleading. Gradually she realises that he is speaking to her from his new girlfriend’s house; it’s the final straw. She winds the cord of the phone around her neck and, telling him repeatedly that she loves him, drops the receiver…
Les Mamelles de Tirésias
Thérèse, a young married woman, is fed up with the life of an obedient housewife. Her husband is no longer going to have everything his own way, she declares. She is a feminist, and full of ambitions. Maybe she’ll become a soldier or a painter, a politician – even a president. She unbuttons her blouse, and her breasts detach themselves and fly away like balloons. Thérèse bids them a joyful farewell, before exploding them with a cigarette lighter.
Without her breasts, but with the first growth of a beard visible, Thérèse updates her husband on his new situation: she will no longer be his wife, and henceforth will be known not as Thérèse but as Tiresias. She returns to the house and celebrates her release from domestic drudgery by hurling household objects – everything from a chamber pot to a piano – out of the window, while her astonished husband looks on.
Two drunks – Presto and Lacouf – appear from a café, to the accompaniment of a lively polka. They have been gambling and proceed to quarrel amicably, arrange a duel and shoot each other dead. Thérèse and her husband re-enter, Thérèse now stylishly dressed as a man, her husband as a housewife. A crowd joins them to mourn the deaths.
Thérèse departs on her new life of independence, determined to campaign against the slavery of childbirth. A policeman arrives to investigate the shootings, but is distracted by the charming woman he sees (actually Thérèse’s husband) and proceeds to flirt. The husband explains the situation. If the women will no longer have babies, then he will undertake the task himself. A newspaper seller scoffs, but the husband insists: if the policeman returns that evening he will witness the success of his procreation plan.
Les Mamelles de Tirésias
Babies’ cries during the entr’acte trumpet the speedy success of the husband’s plan. The curtain rises on a stage full of cradles; he has given birth to no fewer than 40,049 babies in just one day. A journalist asks how he can possibly support such a large family, and is swiftly reassured. The husband tells him that all will have successful careers and support him in his old age; one son has already written a very successful novel. The lesson, he says, is simple: the more children you have, the richer you will be.
But the policeman (who has returned) announces that the newly swollen population is starving. How will everyone eat? The husband suggests ration cards. A fortune teller encourages this new procreation-drive. Getting into a fight with the policeman, she kills him and reveals herself as Thérèse. The policeman recovers. Thérèse and her husband are happily reunited, joined in their dance of celebration by all the townspeople who join together to instruct the audience: make babies!
Illustration © Katie Ponder