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La Dame à la Licorne & La Voix Humaine 

GREENWICH, CT
Greenwich Music Festival
6/8/11

In its fifth-season programming, the Greenwich Music Festival spotlighted French writer and filmmaker Jean Cocteau, with a lecture on Cocteau and Music followed by a week of performances. Composers of Cocteau's circle — Poulenc, Milhaud, Stravinsky, along with Germaine Tailleferre and Louis Durey — were featured on a chamber-music concert, while cabaret performer Meow Meow recreated a monologue act Cocteau had written for Edith Piaf.

The local yachting set mingled with Manhattan hipsters fresh off the nearby commuter train for a double bill (seen June 8) of La Dame à la Licorne (The Lady and the Unicorn) and La Voix Humaine (The Human Voice). Inspired by the medieval unicorn tapestries, Cocteau wrote a ballet scenario in which the pure relationship between a virgin and a unicorn is severed by a knight who tempts, then abandons, the woman. Using a recorded score (the 1994 "Magnum Ignotum") for winds and brass by Georgian composer Giya Kancheli, choreographer Zack Winokur created a tender, sensual ballet that blended magic, chivalry and earthiness.

Winokur and Ted Huffman directed Francis Poulenc's monodrama La Voix Humaine, written in 1959 to a libretto Cocteau fashioned out of his own 1932 play. A nameless woman (listed only as "Elle" or "She") is on the phone with the man who is leaving her. Between service interruptions and party-line mix-ups, she flirts and lies, agonized and desperate. Djordje Nesic played a piano transcription of Poulenc's orchestral score, while the three Unicorn dancers used lanterns in varying deployments (in a lighting design by Marcus Doshi) to emphasize the harshness and dark isolation of Elle's situation. 

In a staging that kept her mostly on the floor, clutching a mink for courage, Laurie Rubin gave an intense, concentrated performance in which the phone became an instrument of both connection and separation. Rubin's warm mezzo-soprano voice easily filled out Poulenc's lines, and even the softest murmurs projected well. One especially stunning moment was Rubin's sensuous, still delivery of the climactic phrase "J'ai le fil autour de mon cou. J'ai ta voix autour de mon cou" (I have the cord around my neck. I have your voice around my neck). spacer 

JUDITH MALAFRONTE

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