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Calling La voix humaine: Opera San José

(Georgia Rowe, San Francisco Classical Voice) La voix humaine remains one of the oddest and most fascinating works in the operatic repertoire. Francis Poulenc’s 1959 tragedie lyrique is composed in one act and performed by a single female singer. As Elle, she spends the opera’s 50-minute running time on the phone, talking to her soon-to-be ex-lover while fielding interruptions from various crossed lines and wrong numbers. Based on the 1930 stage play by Jean Cocteau, the work is both an intense psychological drama and a beguiling example of Poulenc’s compositional skills.

Layna Chianakis knows the piece well. The mezzo-soprano sang the role of Elle early in her career. But this month she makes her directorial debut with a new production of “La voix humaine” for Opera San José, with Bryan Nies conducting and two singers — Betany Coffland and Suzan Hanson — alternating as Elle. Chianakis, an assistant professor of voice at San Jose State University, spoke to SFCV about the production, which opens on a double bill with Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci Nov. 12 at the California Theatre.