Patrick Nolan Program Note for The Human Voice & The Call
21st September, 2022

Patrick Nolan Program Note for The Human Voice & The Call

Read Artistic Director Patrick Nolan's program note for The Human Voice & The Call below

Welcome to the last production in our 2022 season at QPAC, a double bill of two extraordinary works revealing the emotional richness and formal innovation of opera.

Francis Poulenc’s La Voix Humaine, (translated as The Human Voice), turns Jean Cocteau’s monodrama about a woman ending a long-term relationship over the phone, into a compressed masterpiece for soprano and orchestra.

As the audience we are only given access to the woman’s side of the conversation, piecing together what is being said at the other end of the line via her responses. Over the course of a night we watch her slowly unravel as she struggles to accept that the man she has passionately loved for many years is no longer going to be there for her.

True to form, Poulenc eschews the predictable by having the orchestra play the inner drama of Elle rather than the voice of the lover. Her dialogue is often unaccompanied, with the orchestra joining to reveal the many emotions she moves through, from nostalgic delight to deep sadness.

We are challenged to piece together the intimacies and characters that have shaped the couple’s life together, including at one point their beloved dog. It is complex and virtuosic storytelling and it places similar demands on the singer and orchestra. We are therefore fortunate to have Alexandra Flood playing Elle and Zoe Zeniodi leading the Queensland Symphony Orchestra. The precision with which Alexandra and Zoe have explored the dynamic relationship of music, song and story has continually demonstrated why The Human Voice has become a key work in the operatic canon.

The decision to program the Poulenc was inspired by the creation of The Call. We are thrilled to be presenting the world premiere of this remarkable new opera with music by Connor D’Netto, and libretto by Kate Miller-Heidke and Keir Nuttall.

The creation of new Australian work is vital to the survival of the artform, enabling composers and librettists to develop their craft, singers and musicians to extend their repertoire and audiences to encounter stories born of their time.

The Call began its life in early 2020, Ali McGregor suggested we create a work based upon a story she had heard told by Auburn Shaeffer on The Moth, a storytelling community where people share significant moments from their lives.

As we were all locked down at the time, Ali, forever the entrepreneur, proposed the idea of an opera about a phone call to be experienced by audiences on their mobile phones. In the early stages of development, we quickly realised that it was a story that needed a live audience and we set about looking at how we could bring the remarkable tale of redemption to the stage.

Kate and Keir responded with a set of lyrics that captured the vulnerability and raw energy of Auburn’s original tale. Connor followed up with a score that embraces these qualities, combining electric guitars, electronics and extensive percussion with more traditional instruments to create a sonic world that is as tender as it is explosive.

We are very lucky to have Ali McGregor creating this role for the first time. Ali’s remarkable versatility as a singer has wowed audiences around the world, most recently in Brisbane in last year’s Lorelei. In The Call she draws upon this vast experience to embody a character who has been to hell and back again. It has been thrilling to watch her build each song, capturing the tension between technical precision and emotional abandon with enormous courage and generosity.

In creating these shows I have been very fortunate to work with Marg Horwell and Bernie Tan-Hayes, the design team from The Marriage of Figaro. Alert to the historical conversation between the two operas, our design celebrates the constant change vital to building a culture of performance that is alive to the world it plays to. A world that utilises acoustic and electronic instruments, analogue and digital technology, to tell stories whose themes of loss and redemption have been with us since the beginning of time.

Bringing a new production, let alone a new opera, to the stage requires the efforts of many. Thanks to the Brisbane Festival and Fluxus, for sharing in our belief in the value of new Australian works. And to QPAC and the QSO our presenting partners, who are central to our mainstage season.

Thanks also to Arts Queensland, The Australia Council, and Brisbane City Council, whose support is essential to all the work we do and to the many donors and corporate partners, who share in our commitment to delivering performances of the highest standard.

And finally, thanks to all the artists and crew whose creativity and hard work is at the heart of Opera Queensland, and to you, our audience, whose curiosity and passion inspires us to keep exploring the many wonders that opera has to offer.

Patrick Nolan
Artistic Director

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