La voix humaine
Mireille Lebel (“Elle”) in Vancouver Opera's La Voix humaine (2020), directed by Rachel Peake and camera by Mike Southworth

On Oct. 24th, Canadian mezzo-soprano Mireille Lebel starred in Vancouver Opera‘s digital premiere of Francis Poulenc’s one-woman-opera, La voix humaine. It is the season opener for one of the only all-digital, paid opera season subscriptions in Canada.

Lebel, singing the role of Elle or “She,” told Opera Canada why she originally brought the idea of this show about loneliness to director Rachel Peake, and what it was like to work on a made-for-film opera.

Mireille Lebel (“Elle”) in Vancouver Opera’s La Voix humaine (2020), directed by Rachel Peake and camera by Mike Southworth

“I recently finished filming Elle in La voix humaine for Vancouver Opera. It was an incredible feeling to come together with so many artists after such a long break. Rehearsals were intense because we wanted to get it right and felt there was a lot at stake. We also had the added pressure to conform to COVID guidelines.

La voix humaine came to me for so many reasons. It was something I had been eying for a few years and felt ready to tackle it.”

This summer, after hitting rock bottom so to speak, with the news of one cancellation after the other culminating in the last gig of the 2020/2021 season being cancelled for July 2021, I took some time to regroup. I came to accept that the year ahead would be uncertain, somewhat scary, and that if anything happened it would be fairly spontaneous.

The silver lining to this cloud was that opportunities were definitely available. Seasons that had taken years to plan had to be cancelled or postponed but some companies still had a desire to bring some form of opera to their audience and were extremely open to proposals and creative ideas. I thought of the people I loved to work with and projects I had always wanted to do.

La voix humaine came to me for so many reasons. It was something I had been eyeing for a few years and felt ready to tackle it. I identified with the character, the language, and the vocal style. However, as it’s mostly done by sopranos, it wouldn’t necessarily occur to anyone to cast me. There was also this aspect of loneliness. Without it relating to COVID directly, it reflected what I had been feeling, what we all have been feeling.

I contacted the director Rachel Peake, whom I loved as a collaborator and knew from previous productions at VO, to ask her if La voix humaine was something she would be interested in doing. She said yes, and the idea was brought to [General Director] Tom Wright at Vancouver Opera. VO was interested in putting out a digital season of operas actually conceived for film, and somehow Tom had the faith to let us run with the project and place it as the season opener with Kinza Tyrrell playing and doing the musical direction.

La voix humaine
Mireille Lebel (“Elle”) and Kinza Tyrrell (Music Director, pianist) in Vancouver Opera’s La Voix humaine (2020), directed by Rachel Peake and camera by Mike Southworth

It was exciting and all of us were exploring new territory. We worked with one of the best camera crews in Vancouver headed up by Mike Southworth: seven cameras, including one on the ceiling with a guy hanging down in stirrups. The result is something we are all very proud of. It’s a tough time for the live arts until we can perform for an audience again.

We are fighting tooth and nail in the meantime to deliver high quality content: the art we actually practice, partnered with the film technology available to us. All of this to deliver a top musical experience to the people who value music and miss it in their lives.”

Subscriptions for Vancouver Opera’s digital season can be purchased here.