Poulenc, Francis: Les mamelles de Tirésias
“Non, Monsieur mon mari…Envolez-vous, oiseaux de ma faiblesse” (Thérèse)
Aria Talk •
Editor's Note: Aria Talk focuses not on the tried-and-true pieces you undoubtedly already know, but on somewhat off-the-beaten-track arias. The hope is that this music will prove a refreshing musical and interpretive change not only for you, the performer, but also for those hearing you in auditions.
Are you a Gilda/Lucia/Lakmé type but with a wild thing in you that’s struggling to find an outlet in your audition repertoire? If so, consider feisty Thérèse, who for most of Poulenc’s one-act opéra-bouffe is actually male (hence the title, “The Breasts of Tirésias”). There’s a lot of text, but if your French is up to par, you’ll have an uproarious time with this scene.
Early in the opera, after proclaiming to her husband that she’s a feminist, Thérèse makes clear that she wants to make war, not babies! No longer will her husband give her orders (to the audience, she indicates that he’s only interested in making love). She mentions numerous jobs she’d enjoy — lawyer, senator, mathematician, etc. When she opens her blouse, her breasts float out, seemingly balloons attached to her by strings. In her solo’s second portion (cutting the husband’s very brief interjections is no problem), Thérèse caresses the balloons before setting them aloft. She feels a beard and mustache growing and with them a surge of true virility. “And you, husband, being less virile than I am, can fuss however you like.”
You’ll need a good pianist — the first section moves at quite a clip. You should approach the whole first half of the scene with terrific rhythmic precision. As the breasts float upward, be prepared for an octave leap to high C, followed by delicate descending staccati. At “Envolez-vous” Thérèse launches into an irresistible caféstyle waltz, which should be delivered with great elegance and affection. When virility starts to take her over, Thérèse sings another waltz, this one much more aggressive (masculine, if you like), ending on a full-voiced high C.
Recording: Natalie Dessay, “French Opera Arias,” EMI Classics #56159; Barbara Bonney in complete recording, Philips #456504
About the Author: