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Introducing... Poulenc Double Bill

From intimate tragedy to giddy, surreal comedy: this double-bill of La Voix humaine and Les Mamelles de Tirésias has it all.

From intimate tragedy to giddy, surreal comedy: this double-bill of La voix humaine and Les mamelles de Tirésias has it all.

In our latest Introducing… film, Alexandra Coghlan meets mezzo-soprano Stéphanie d’Oustrac to discuss the challenges of one-woman show La Voix humaine. Plus, she talks to performer Le Gateau Chocolat to explore the gender politics of Les Mamelles de Tirésias.

The audio recording of La Voix humaine used in this film is courtesy of Warner Classics.

A brief introduction

Poulenc’s ‘lyric tragedy’ La Voix humaine (1959) was the last opera he would write – a concise and emotionally devastating portrait of love on the brink of despair and possibly suicide. 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…

Les Mamelles de Tirésias (1944) is a complete contrast. One of Poulenc’s greatest and most contradictory pieces – an explosion of high-spirits after the sober restraint of WWII – it tells the story of frustrated housewife Therese, who transforms herself into a man and heads out into the world, leaving her husband at home to take care of the baby-making. An exuberant adaption of Apollinaire’s surrealist play of the same name, Les Mamelles is a rowdy comic opera, whose delights conceal a more serious message about rebuilding France after the devastation of war. This is the first time Glyndebourne has staged the opera.

Why not to miss this production

This double-bill of French opera opens with tragic heartbreak and ends with a riotous, surreal comedy – join us for an evening that will take you through the whole gamut of emotions. La Voix is an overwhelmingly powerful music-drama that puts a woman’s voice and emotions absolutely front and centre. Conversely, Tirésias is a giddy, charming and surprisingly tender little drama which asks provocative questions about gender roles and relationships.

This double bill sees the long awaited return of Director Laurent Pelly, who will be familiar to many of you from his visually dazzling productions of Hänsel und Gretel, Béatrice et Bénédict and the Ravel Double Bill. Expect similar inventiveness on stage!

A great moment to look out for

‘Il faut s’aimer ou je succombe’ from Les mamelles de Tirésias

Thérèse and her husband thrash out the terms of their reunion (with Thérèse quickly dismissing the suggestion that she might like to regain her breasts after letting them fly away earlier during her transformation into a man). In music that’s by turns rapturous, light-footed and ironic and Broadway-glitzy, the people of Zanzibar come together to proclaim the opera’s credo of repopulation: ‘Heed the lessons of the war and make babies!’ In its quick shifts of mood and style, the finale sums up the topsy-turvy, always wrong-footing-you charms and ebullience of this opera.

Did you know?

The libretto for La Voix humaine was written by poet, filmmaker and artist Jean Cocteau, based on his play of the same name. In 1960 Cocteau produced a version of the opera for Glyndebourne (which he also designed) – it was performed at the Edinburgh Festival that year.

Cast and creative team

Stéphanie d’Oustrac in Béatrice et Bénédict, Festival 2016 | Photo: Richard Hubert Smith

Festival favourite Stéphanie d’Oustrac, last seen in 2016’s Béatrice et Bénédict, will play Elle in La Voix humaine – the perfect vehicle for her skills as an astonishing singing actor.

Elsa Benoit stars as the restless Thérèse in Les Mamelles de Tirésias, and the cast also includes Gyula Orendt and François Piolino. Glyndebourne’s Music Director Robin Ticciati conducts.

Supported by Hamish and Sophie Forsyth

Illustration © Katie Ponder

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