Lights. Camera. Opera!
One of the key offerings in Opera Philadelphia's O18 festival this fall will leave behind a cinematic souvenir of the production.
Opera Philadelphia had already turned its plans for Poulenc's La voix humaine into a larger project, augmenting the 40-minute work for a single singer with a dramatic prologue that includes French cabaret and art songs. The Poulenc piece itself is to be sung by soprano Patricia Racette, and will be performed in its version with piano (as opposed to the one with orchestra). Another singer, baritone Edward Nelson, will be part of the prologue, along with actors.
Now, the entire production, dubbed Ne Quittez Pas (Hold the Line) will be turned into a film – but one that is more than just a straight capture of the performance.
"You will hear and see it from beginning to end, but editing it into a film gives us the ability to use visual language we can't use in live theater," says James Darrah, director of both the film and live production slated for five performances at the TLA on South Street in September. "You can have moments in the film with Pat in the dressing room or in the alley behind the venue. We're using elements of the space where you couldn't fit an audience. We get to play with time, tracking her psychological breakdown."
The idea of creating a related but separate work is intended as an "experience that … feels like its own immersive art film," said Darrah, based in Los Angeles.
The film will be woven together from more than one performance, he said. Opera Philadelphia aims to distribute it on the film festival circuit and through other outlets, though plans are not far along.
The company will explore options for streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon, though "we're just in the idea phase at this point," said opera company spokesman Frank Luzi.
Poulenc's piece from 1958, based on a Cocteau play, is an extended dialogue in which the single character, Elle, is on the phone with her ex-lover, grappling with their breakup. The telephone plays a central role in the story, and to preserve the authentic pre-cellphone experience, Darrah has set the action in the 1970s. Christopher Allen is pianist and music director.
Darrah says he's always felt the opera is about an older woman in love with a younger man who doesn't take the relationship as seriously as she does, and the prologue, in which Nelson sings, is meant to bring some added context to the story — but not too much. "I don't want to tie up every loose end in the piece," he says.
O18 runs from Sept. 20 to 30 at various venues around Philadelphia.