(The Human Voice)
Composed by Francis Poulenc
Based on a play by Jean Cocteau

A woman. A broken heart. A telephone. It is late at night and a distraught woman is on the phone with her former lover. Tomorrow he intends to marry someone else; however, tonight her hopes cling to their final conversation. Suzan Hanson stars in one of opera's most powerful monologues, where a lonely woman lays bare the heartbreak of unrequited love. Based on an original play by Jean Cocteau, where "the telephone is sometimes more dangerous than the revolver, its tangled cord drains us of our strength, while giving us nothing in return."

" ...an unremittingly emotional scene... an overwhelming tour de force..."
–The New York Times

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La Voix humaine (the Human Voice), is a one-woman opera based on the 1930 play of the same name by Jean Cocteau. Poulenc's “Lyric Tragedy” premiered in 1959. "I'm writing a opera - you know what it's about: a woman (me) is making a last telephone call to her lover who is getting married the next day." Poulenc had recently gone through a breakup himself and described the opera as a "musical confession". 

Francis Poulenc (1899 – 1963)

Francis Poulenc was in many ways the most "typical" of the group of French composers known as Les Six (also included Milhaud, Auric, Durey, Honegger and Tailleferre), and he represents a trend of 20th-century music that is characteristically French. Poulenc was born in Paris to a family that was artistic, musical, and affluent. His mother was a fine pianist, and Francis began lessons at the age of 5. Later he studied with Ricardo Vines, a friend of Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel who had played the first performances of much of their piano music. While still in his teens Poulenc met Erik Satie, who left a permanent mark on his musical ideals.

In 1920 Poulenc was a charter member of Les Six - a group of six French composers in reaction against the musical style of Richard Wagner and the impressionist music of Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel. He spent most of his life in Paris, except for concert tours that included several trips to the United States after World War II, where he accompanied baritone Pierre Bernac, who specialized in singing his songs.

Poulenc's operas differ strikingly from each other. Les Mamelles de Tirésias (1944) is a risqué, surrealist farce; Les Dialogues des Carmélites (1957) is a serious and moving account of the spiritual development of a nun during the French Revolution and La Voix Humaine (1959) is a deeply harrowing, unremitting monologue, featuring an abandoned lover painfully breaking down over the telephone. His religious choral works, particularly the Litanies à la Vierge noire (1936) and a Stabat Mater (1950), are frequently performed. He also wrote numerous piano solos, a sonata for two pianos, and concertos for piano, two pianos, organ, and harpsichord. Among chamber works there are sonatas for various instruments and piano and a sextet for piano, flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, and horn. Poulenc avoided large, dramatic gestures. He accepted his natural limitations and was content to write music in the spirit of the composers he most admired: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Frédéric Chopin, Debussy, and Igor Stravinsky.

Jean Cocteau (1889-1963) 

Jean Maurice Eugène Clément Cocteau was a French writer, designer, playwright, artist and filmmaker. He was one of the most multi-talented artists of the 20th century. In addition to being a director, he was a poet, novelist, painter, playwright, set designer, and actor. He began writing at 10 and was a published poet by age 16. He collaborated with the Russian Ballet Company of Sergei Diaghilev, and was active in many art movements, but always remained a poet at heart. His films reflect this fact. Cocteau was also a homosexual, and made no attempt to hide it. His favorite actor was his close friend Jean Marais, who appeared in almost every one of his films. Cocteau made about twelve films in his career, all rich with symbolism and surreal imagery. He is now regarded as one of the most important avant-garde directors in cinema. Cocteau is best known for his novel Les Enfants Terribles (1929), and the films Blood of a Poet (1930), Les Parents Terribles (1948), Beauty and the Beast (1946) and Orpheus (1949). His circle of associates, friends and lovers included Kenneth Anger, Pablo Picasso, Jean Hugo, Jean Marais, Henri Bernstein, Yul Brynner, Marlene Dietrich, Coco Chanel, Erik Satie, Igor Stravinsky, María Félix, Édith Piaf, Panama Al Brown, and Colette and Raymond Radiguet. 

About Cocteau's Play

Cocteau's experiments with the human voice peaked with his 1930 play La Voix humaine (The Human Voice). The story involves one woman on stage speaking on the telephone with her (invisible and inaudible) departing lover, who is leaving her to marry another woman. The telephone proved to be the perfect prop for Cocteau to explore his ideas, feelings, and "algebra" concerning human needs and realities in communication. Cocteau acknowledged in the introduction to the script that the play was motivated, in part, by complaints from his actresses that his works were too writer/director-dominated and gave the players little opportunity to show off their full range of talents. La Voix humaine was written, in effect, as an extravagant aria for Madame Berthe Bovy. Before came Orphée, later turned into one of his more successful films; after came La Machine infernale, arguably his most fully realized work of art.

La Voix humaine is deceptively simple — a woman alone on stage for almost one hour of non-stop theatre speaking on the telephone with her departing lover. It is full of theatrical codes harking back to the Dadaists' Vox Humana experiments after World War One, Alphonse de Lamartine's La Voix humaine, part of his larger work Harmonies poétiques et religieuses and the effect of the creation of the Vox Humana ("voix humaine"), an organ stop of the Regal Class by Church organ masters (late 16th century) that attempted to imitate the human voice but never succeeded in doing better than the sound of a male chorus at a distance. Reviews varied at the time and since but whatever the critique, the play represents Cocteau's state of mind and feelings towards his actors at the time: on the one hand, he wanted to spoil and please them; on the other, he was fed up by their diva antics and was ready for revenge. It is also true that none of Cocteau's works has inspired as much imitation: Francis Poulenc's opera La voix humaine, Gian Carlo Menotti's "opera buffa" The Telephone and Roberto Rossellini's film version in Italian with Anna Magnani L'Amore (1948). There has also been a long line of interpreters including Simone Signoret, Ingrid Bergman and Liv Ullmann (in the play) and Julia Migenes, Denise Duval, Renata Scotto, Anja Silja and Felicity Lott (in the opera).


We're eavesdropping as a woman makes a final phone call to the man who kept her as a mistress, but who's now moving on, leaving her alone, distraught, and suicidal. In this last conversation, she attempts to win him back. It's agonizing: there are interruptions, painful pauses, all the emotional picked up, an extension somewhere, we hear dignity turn to despair and desperation as the woman reveals that she's already tried to kill herself. "If you did not love me and were not so awkward, this telephone could easily become a terrible weapon. A weapon that would leave no marks, nor make a noise..."


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Andreas Mitisek

Stage Director

Since 2003, Mitisek has been LBO's Artistic & General Director. Recent LBO directing credits: The Difficulty of Crossing a Field, King Gesar, Macbeth, Tell-Tale Heart, Van Gogh, The Paper Nautilus, Ainadamar, and Maria de Buenos Aires. Recent LBO conducting credits:Thérèse Raquin, I was Looking at the Ceiling and then I Saw the Sky, The Death of Klinghoffer, Camelia la Tejana, and The Fall of the House of Usher (co-production with COT). Other conducting credits: Joruri in Tokyo, Don Giovanni (Seattle Opera), Madama Butterfly (Orlando Opera), Jane Eyre (Opera Theatre of Saint Louis) and Eugene Onegin (Teatro Municipal in Santiago de Chile). Mitisek has also conducted the Austrian and Italian premieres of Nixon in China. In 2012, Andreas joined Chicago Opera Theater as General Director.


Kristof Van Grysperre


Kristof Van Grysperre, a native of Belgium, most recently conducted for LBO Hydrogen JukeboxAn American Soldier’s Tale/Fiddler’s Tale and The Difficulty of Crossing a Field. Hailed by the Orange County Register as “gifted and stylistically impeccable” and as “a conductor with pugilistic power and sensitivity” he has an international career as conductor, pianist, chamber musician and vocal coach. With a repertoire of over fifty operas, Van Grysperre conducted performances for Opera Pacific, Baltimore Opera Studio, Intimate Opera Company, SongFest and USC Opera. He has collaborated with leading instrumentalists and singers, such as Angela Meade, Maria Newman, Philip Webb and Susan Mohini Kane, and is the founder and artistic director of Angels Vocal Art.

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Suzan Hanson


With LBO: Marilyn (Death of Klinghoffer), Lady Macbeth (Macbeth - also for Chicago Opera Theater), Madeline (Fall of the House of Usher - also for COT), Mrs. P (The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat), Margarita (Ainadamar), Medea (Medea), Mrs. Williamson (The Difficulty of Crossing a Field), Pat Nixon (Nixon in China), Brünnhilde (Siegfried, Götterdämmerung).  Premiered works by Philip Glass, Rinde Eckert, Michel LeGrand, Henry Mollicone, Craig Bohmler... Other Opera companies: San Francisco, Arizona, Connecticut, Carnegie Hall, Pittsburgh, Verona, Tel Aviv, Madrid, Spoleto, Florence… Theater companies: Old Globe, Denver Center, San Jose Rep… Recordings: The Tender Land (Koch), Coyote Tales (Newport Classics).

National Endowement for the Arts    California Arts Council Arts Council for Long Beach City of Long Beach Art Works Opera America KUSC

This activity is supported in part by the California Arts Council, a state agency. Learn more at www.arts.ca.gov
Supported in part by a grant from the Arts Council for Long Beach and the City of Long Beach.
Long Beach Opera events are supported, in part, by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors through the Los Angeles County Arts Commission