Cumnock Tryst review: Danielle de Niese, Cumnock Old Church

For the opening concert of this year’s Cumnock Tryst, soprano Danielle de Niese gave a gripping account of Poulenc’s 1958 operatic monologue La voix humaine, writes Ken Walton

Cumnock Tryst: Danielle de Niese, Cumnock Old Church *****

She’s been dubbed “opera’s coolest soprano”, but the emotional temperature of this red hot solo performance from Danielle de Niese – a daring opener to this year’s four-day Cumnock Tryst Festival – hit boiling point. The impact was immediate. In a dazzling red dress, and with a smile illuminated by evocative, penetrating eyes, her entrance said it all: I’ve got a great story to tell you, and you’re gonna love it!

The centrepiece was Poulenc’s La voix humaine, his 1958 operatic monologue based on John Cocteau’s eponymous play, in which a distressed woman conducts a histrionic phone call with her unseen, unheard ex, who clearly wants no more to do with her. It’s a passionate and frenzied theatrical journey, in which de Niese’s main prop, besides a single chaise longue, table and telephone, was her own show-stealing charisma.

Danielle de Niese PIC: Chris Dunlop/ DECCADanielle de Niese PIC: Chris Dunlop/ DECCA
Danielle de Niese PIC: Chris Dunlop/ DECCA
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She absolutely lived the part, neurosis personified, fitful emotions battling for position, heightened by a gripping vocal performance, explosive and incandescent one minute, lapping up Poulenc’s more expansive lyricism the next.

De Niese presented it, not in the orchestral version, but with sole accompaniment from pianist Matthew Fletcher, a partnership that projected a vital intimacy of its own. Fletcher was every bit as electrifying, his own theatrical responses timed to perfection, hanging on every cue, capturing with intense virtuosity the filigree imagery in Poulenc’s score.

They preceded this with two new songs, written for de Niese by Festival director James MacMillan to words by his long-time collaborator Michael Symmons Roberts. They were the perfect scene-setters, the evocative quirkiness of Soul Song giving way to the Brittenesque translucence of The Vows. Again, de Niese fully engaged with their dramatic inner spirit. MacMillan says he views them as the embryo of a longer song cycle for de Niese. Let’s have her back when they’re completed.