La voix humaine
In this voice session, Professor François Le Roux and his student Jeanne Coppey work on the one-act opera La voix humaine by French composer Francis Poulenc, and based on Jean Cocteau’s eponymous play.
A difficult and long piece, Coppey is instructed to focus on each beat, and to imagine a conversation “on the other side of the phone.” Le Roux tells her that the written silences are not musical silences, and what is linked together is not via “legato” but through a mental connection. The piece must be treated like a play, an opera, with a role to interpret. Professor Le Roux explains that the general attitude of the woman must be understood, her state of mind, the many emotions, and nuances of what she is saying.
In this regard, continuity is key. The singer’s voice must be part of a continuous musical flux. There should not be a distance between the singer and the woman in the piece. Lastly, Le Roux discusses the importance of synchronization between the singer and the conductor.
Approaching this piece as a one-act play or opera.
Preparing mentally and physically prior to performing.
Building a musical flow must be sustained
Embodying the role of the character.
Performing with a conductor.
La voix humaine is a one-act opera for soprano written by French composer Francis Poulenc in 1958. It is typically interpreted in 40 to 50 minutes and is based on Jean Cocteau’s monodrama of the same name, which was first staged in 1936 at the Paris Comédie Française.
It premiered in Paris with Soprano Denise Duval and tells the tragic story of a young woman’s last phone conversation with her lover who abandoned her. The main themes are love, betrayal, abandonment, and suicide.
After an immense success with his second opera, Dialogues des Carmélites in 1957, Poulenc wanted to pursue opera-composing. The composer wrote the piece with Denise Duval in mind, even though Maria Callas had been suggested to play the part of “Elle” and spent two months orchestrating it after the completion of the piece itself.
The tragédie-lyrique premiered in 1959 at the Opéra-Comique in Paris, with Georges Prêtre conducting and Duval performing the title role. The opera was a remarkable success and was performed at La Scala in Milan, as well as all over Europe and the United States.
Aim for excellence! You can improve your skills with expert advice. Download the annotated sheet music of this voice masterclass. Please note that this piece has been annotated in accordance to François Le Roux’s feedback and comments.
He has been awarded the grade of "Chevalier" in the French National Order of Les Arts et Lettres in 1996.
François Le Roux began studying vocals with François Loup, now a teacher at Peabody-Baltimore, at the age of nineteen. Later, he continued to study under Vera Rosza and Elisabeth Grümmer at the Opéra Studio, Paris.
A member of the Lyon Opera Company from 1980 to 1985, he has since been a guest at all the major European opera houses and festivals, as well as renowned American opera venues: Santa Fé (NM), Los Angeles Opera, New Orleans Opera, and Colon Buenos Aires (Argentina). His operatic repertoire is immense, from Monteverdi to David Lang. Named “Mr. Mélodie” by American critics, François Le Roux gives numerous recitals accompanied by such renowned names as Graham Johnson, Roger Vignoles, Christian Ivaldi, Olivier Godin, and Jeff Cohen. He conducts masterclasses dedicated to the interpretation of French songs and recital repertoire around the world: Orford and Lachine Academy (Québec, Canada), Vancouver (BC, Canada), Minneapolis Song Source Festival (USA), Sibelius Academy Helsinki (Finland), Kyoto Société Mélodie Française (Japan), Central Conservatory of Music Beijing (China), Association Mélodie Française (Seoul, South Korea), and the Académie Ravel de Saint-Jean-de-Luz (France).
Moreover, he is the Artistic Director and Founder of the Académie Francis Poulenc Tours, where every year since 1997, students have the opportunity to learn the interpretation of French Song. What’s more, Le Roux organized the “French Song Concert Seasons” of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France in Paris between 1997 and 2002.
He has been awarded the grade of “Chevalier” in the French National Order of “Les Arts et Lettres” in 1996, and was selected as "Musical Personality of the Year, 1997" by the French Critics Union. He has been a vocal teacher at the National Music Conservatoire in Paris (CNSMDP), and is now teaching at the Ecole normale de Musique de Paris Alfred Cortot, where he is developing the exclusive French Vocal Art Certificate.
Born in Paris in 1899 from a wealthy industrial family, Francis Poulenc rebelliously became a pianist and later a composer. He took up piano lessons as a young child but did not get a formal academic musical education until later in his life.
He started to compose at age 18, after meeting with several famous poets and musicians of the era like Aragon, Appollinaire or Éluard and of course fellow composer Maurice Ravel. He was enrolled as a conscript in the army after 1918 and composed several pieces during that time. His fame, particularly in Britain, grew in the post-war era, but as his work was met with remarkable success, he became all too aware of his lack of academic training and took composition lessons for a while. His personal life was not a happy one, as he struggled with his sexuality and had proposed to a female friend who refused him.
In the 30s, after a series of emotional misfortunes, his music became more serious and adapted a lot of surrealistic poems by Paul Éluard. He briefly served in WWII and spent the latter months of the war in the south of France with friends and family.
In the 50s, La Scala commissioned Poulenc to write an opera and worked on it until his death. He suffered a fatal heart attack in 1963 and died at home in Paris. His most well-known oeuvres are the piano suite Trois mouvements perpétuels (1919), the ballet Les biches (1923), the Concert champêtre (1928) for harpsichord and orchestra, the Organ Concerto (1938), the opera Dialogues des Carmélites (1957), and the Gloria (1959).
Photo credit: Francis Poulenc