A Mouth is Not for Talking: La voix humaine

by Mila Henry


What is this?

A Mouth is Not for Talking: La voix humaine is a new look at Francis Poulenc and Jean Cocteau’s iconic one-woman opera La voix humaine in which a woman attempts to hold onto her former lover through a telephone conversation, and through the course of the call must confront her own denial, attachment and loneliness. The title “A Mouth is Not for Talking” is taken from a poem by 13th-century Sufi mystic Rumi, which goes on to say “...a mouth is for tasting this sweetness”. We have used this poetic wisdom as a guiding concept to chart the character Elle’s journey in our new production. When La voix humaine was first written, it was pretty radical to have the action of an entire opera be a telephone conversation; but now that our lives are dominated by the smartphone, we realized the story had a much deeper significance. We wanted to address how our addiction to the smartphone is distorting our experience of communication and identity, perpetuating our sense of isolation and loneliness.

Why now? Why us?

We met at the Manhattan School of Music (while taking a class on Poulenc!), and in the eight years since graduating have each found a niche in the world of contemporary opera. This project fulfills a common vision to move beyond our trained roles as music interpreters and into the realm of re-contextualizing vocal music for the world around us. A specific goal of our production is to challenge the traditional roles of singer and pianist, creating not only a musical conversation, but a physical relationship as well. Through our director’s innovative staging, we will find that Mila is much more than the “voice” on the other end of the line, but an aspect of Elle herself.

Where will it happen?

We proposed our project to National Sawdust, a music venue in the heart of Williamsburg, Brooklyn whose mission is to promote the music of emerging and established artists alike. We’ll be presenting A Mouth is Not for Talking: La voix humaine on March 10, 2017 during their Spring Revolution Festival. They’ll be providing their state-of-the-art theatre, technical staff, and basic promotion and publicity, but we’re responsible for covering all additional costs.

Is there more?

The long-term vision of A Mouth is Not for Talking: La voix humaine is to present the project to communities of high school and college age, and to tour at home and abroad. Following our Sawdust premiere we hope to expand our performances into Brooklyn educational and community realms, offering A Mouth is Not for Talking: La voix humaine as a commentary on the influence of digital technology, an example of multi-disciplinary works, and the antidote to what one might consider “traditional” opera-theater. Given the diverse locales of our team (though we all have roots to Brooklyn), we could eventually perform regionally or internationally- Laura is based in Amsterdam but considers Brooklyn her New York base, with additional connections in Seattle and San Francisco; Mary is based in Manhattan and Hannah is based in Berlin, but both are former Brooklynites; and Mila is based in Brooklyn, with ties to the Philadelphia area.

Who are we?

MILA HENRY will provide onstage musical support throughout A Mouth is Not for Talking: La voix humaine. She is a New York-based pianist, coach, and music director who specializes in music theater projects and vocal chamber music. She is the co-creator of the concept behind A Mouth is Not for Talking: La voix humaine.  

Soprano LAURA BOHN will sing Elle in La voix humaine. A dynamic stage animal praised by Opera News for her “powerful” singing and “skillful” stagecraft, she inhabits her roles with the versatility of a dancer, embodying the cutting-edge of operatic performance. She is the co-creator of the concept behind A Mouth is Not for Talking: La voix humaine.  

Nominated for Best Newcomer of 2015 at the International Opera Awards in London, MARY BIRNBAUM has been singled out as a director to watch. Passionate about using live performance to create community and full-throttle acting, Birnbaum has directed opera and theater in New York, regionally and internationally. Mary is stage director and concept advisor for A Mouth is Not for Talking: La voix humaine.  

HANNAH WASILESKI, projection designer for A Mouth is Not for Talking: La voix humaine is an Obie-winning designer based in Brooklyn and Berlin. Beginning as a video and installation artist after graduating from the University of Brighton, UK, she moved to New York, where she was immediately drawn to the interaction of live performance and projection design for the stage.

How much money do we want to raise, and how will we use it?

Our “target goal” is $4,500. This amount will cover the fees for our Director and Projection Designer ($3000 total), partial reimbursement for Laura’s flights between NYC and Amsterdam ($1000), and a portion of our rehearsal space rentals ($500).

Our “stretch goal” is $6,000. This amount would cover ALL of the above, as well as the Grand Rights Fee to perform La voix humaine ($200), the rest of our rehearsal space rentals ($275), the two purchased La voix humaine piano-vocal scores for our Director and Projection Designer ($75 total), an honorarium for our photographer ($75), the rental of a special lens required for our projection design ($500), and the fee for our Projections Operator ($450).

If we go BEYOND $6,000, this amount would cover ALL of the above, and ALL additional proceeds would also go towards a tour to colleges, festivals and theaters - venues where the themes of our show will have the greatest resonance..

By pushing the donate button, your gift to us is tax deductible through the generous work of our host Hatchfund, a non-profit organization supporting the arts. A small percentage will be added to your initial donation in order for us to not pay ANY fees at all.

THANK YOU for taking the time to watch our video, read this far, and support us in any way you can!

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