MUSIC /// Ann Allen & Rebecca Ockenden

By entitling the evening’s programme ‘End of the Line’ we simultaneously evoke the telephone receiver, picked up and replaced at regular intervals by the protagonist and the invisible, omnipresent interlocutor at the other end of the telephone line. No less importantly we also suggest the drawing to a close of a seminal relationship (in a figurative sense ‘End of the Line’ has its equivalent in ‘Endstation’).

The major part of the evening is devoted to Poulenc’s Monooper La Voix Humaine. Jean Cocteau wrote the text nearly ninety years ago, but, apart from a few 1930s-specific details, the work is striking in its contemporaneity. Break-ups and heartbreak retain their universal characteristics over the decades and Francis Poulenc inimitably captured this and more in his 1958 setting of Cocteau’s play.

Seeking to situate Poulenc’s chef-d’œuvre within a broader context, we serendipitously chanced upon Michael Jarrell’s ‘Etude pour piano’ composed in 2011, which in ten minutes of music provides a (voiceless) quintessence of La Voix Humaine itself and thereby serves as a perfect prologue.

The question remained as to how we could make a convincing bridge between Jarrell’s Etude and Poulenc’s masterpiece. Benefiting from Ludovic Van Hellemont’s compositional talents, we aksed him to write new material specifically for the project, which would both retrospectively refer to the Etude that has just been heard and look forward to Poulenc’s work following it, thereby providing us with a seamless passage into La Voix Humaine itself.

We were delighted to have the Gare du Nord, to some extent a terminus, an ‘end of the line’, as the venue for our premiere. Its architecture is evocative of a pre-Cocteau era and its aura of ephemerality, as a place of arrivals and departures, provides a perfect metaphor and parallel for the theme of the transience of relationships explored in Poulenc’s work, where as an audience we gain an insight into an individual’s predicament and inner turmoil for a brief space of time.

STAGING /// Ann Allen

The devastating pain of heartbreak is a suffering known to all. Hours, days, weeks, months are spent in silent and not so silent torture; replaying scenes of a lost life where passion turns to pain. A twisted world of overlapping emotions, writhing in our stomachs, beating in our hearts and raging in our minds becomes an all-consuming sickness.

When I first had the idea of creating this project, I knew I wanted to strip everything back to a bare minimum and let the power of the emotions and experiences speak through the music. No bed, no pink dress, no individual telephone cradled in Elle’s arms for 40 minutes. I wanted to create a dark world, a prison cell, with the protagonist trapped in her own thoughts and pain.

In Poulenc’s opera we are cleverly presented with two concurrent stories … the narrative of the present and the slowly emerging truth of the past. For a long time Elle’s multi-level fabrications manage to stitch the two worlds together but over the course of the evening the lies slowly unravel and the two separate realities are revealed.

To capture the idea of this double existence, from early on in my planning, I decided to bring in Kendra Walsh. She acts as a personification of the Elle’s true feelings, even when Rebecca Ockenden’s version of the protagonist is still smiling stiffly and whispering placatory words to her ex-lover.

To create this dark, prison like world, the stage will be virtually devoid of any props and the set is a mass of  telephone wires. While Elle, the singer, remains largely in the present and is free to wander the stage, turning from one conversation to another, Elle, the dancer, slowly wraps herself in the telephone wires,  subsumed by the web of lies and tangle of emotions.

© morethanmusic 2017