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Online Love: An Audra McDonald Double Bill

In 2006, Broadway star Audra McDonald released an album called Build a Bridge — meant to join the musical worlds of Broadway and pop songs. That same year, McDonald built another musical bridge when, in one evening onstage, she made a vivid connection between musical theater and the opera house.

In the spring of 2006 McDonald took the stage at Houston Grand Opera for a solo spectacular — a double bill of one-woman operas: the world premiere of Send (who are you? I love you), by Michael John LaChiusa, followed by Francis Poulenc's anguished drama La Voix Humaine — or The Human Voice.

In their way, both operas are stories of high-tech love. The Human Voice, composed in 1958, presents a single character who endures an entire act of desperation and heartache, while her lover dumps her over the phone. LaChiusa's Send ... brings us a young woman eager to begin a brand new relationship with a man she knows only from the internet. And in each half of this operatic tour de force, McDonald's voice is the only one we hear.

Composer Michael John LaChiusa is best known for his work on Broadway. His musical Marie Christine was also a vehicle for McDonald, whom he calls an "astounding" performer.

"Audra sings in character," LaChiusa says. "She understands that every note she sings must sound as though as it were being created in the moment. In these days of faux performances, Audra is an anomaly."

In LaChiusa's opera, McDonald's character fantasizes freely about her internet lover, all the while waiting anxiously for a phone call that comes only as the opera is ending. In The Human Voice, her character's phone rings right away, and brings her nothing but bad news. Together, McDonald's performances in the two operas create a vivid, emotional whirlwind.

On World of Opera, host Lisa Simeone presents this brilliant one-woman show from the stage of the Brown Theater, at downtown Houston's Wortham Theater Center.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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