"C'est ca la vie, c'est ca l'amour": French Operetta Arias Import
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Susan Graham - C'est Ca La Vie C'est Ca L'amour - Cd
This record presents the esteemed opera singer and French music specialist Susan Graham in a new light. French operetta began with Jacques Offenbach (creator of The Tales of Hoffmann) in the 1850s; his ability to blend sweet lovely melodies with bitter political satire made him and the form famous, and composers all over the world have emulated him ever since, including those represented on this disc. Most of them, though popular during their lifetime, are hardly known today. The most familiar are Arthur Honegger and Reynaldo Hahn, though not primarily as operetta composers; the latter contributes some of the loveliest music.
The arias on this program are thoroughly appealing and very different, ranging from frothy creampuffs to almost operatic dramas, from ingenuous simplicity to ironic sophistication. As one might expect, the texts, all written from a woman's point of view, focus on the relationships between men and women in all their infinite, subtle variety. Susan Graham uses her very beautiful voice and captivating charm to bring out the teasing humor, the intimacy, passion, joy, and regret in words and music. One song is a trio, but since no other singers are mentioned, one assumes that she covers all three parts! The first song is the only one in which the singing is artificial and exaggerated, as if Graham were feeling her way into the style. The orchestra is very good, but some of the arrangements are overloaded. --Edith Eisler
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Top Customer Reviews
Graham is a singer very much in the mold of Frederica von Stade - like von Stade, she is best known for trouser roles such as Octavian and Cherubino, but she has done some wonderful work in French music, especially as a recitalist. Her voice is firm and lustrous with an easy, sopranoish top, her phrasing is exquisite, and her French is excellent. By turns Graham is funny, ironic, sensual, wistful, charming, and heroic.
Most of the music on this CD was written between 1920 and 1935, although one selection here is from as early as 1897. The music actually has greater similarity to 'modern' musical comedy than to traditional operetta. Of course, the primary theme of these works is the travails of women in love - either they struggle with their (often illicit) passions - in one case attempting to invoke Joan of Arc! - or muse on the perfidy of men. My favorite song on the disc is the title track, a delightful samba take on 'Carmen' (from Cuban-born Moises Simons' 'Toi c'est moi') with a verse that sounds quite a bit like the 'Habanera' - only in this version, Carmen murders Escamillo! It actually occurred to me while listening to this disc that Graham might make an excellent Bizet Carmen on records or in a small theater. By the way, the 'Carmen' connection shows up again in a song entitled - you guessed it - 'L'amour est un oiseau rebelle'!
Other tracks which I love are `Yes', wherein a French woman goes to England knowing only that word and gets her self married - and more, and `O mon bel inconnu', where three women get letters from the same man (their husband, father, and employer respectively) through the lonelyhearts column. Thanks to the miracle (?) of multi-tracking, Graham gets to sing all three roles, and her `voices' blend together gorgeously. And in the final track, 'Vagabonde' (also from 'Toi c'est moi') is a delightfully whirling 'impatient, quivering, impulsive' plea from a woman who wants to find a man willing to marry before her 'orange-flower' wilts (wink, wink).
Despite the light tone of most of this music, there are several moments of high drama. `Lorsque je n'etais que enfant' is an aria from Messager's `Fortunio' where the heroine, berating herself for toying with her boyfriend, reminisces of her purer and more innocent childhood. Graham is back in her usual trouser-role territory for the heroic `Etre adore' from Hahn's `Mozart', where the composer effuses over Paris and willingly sacrifices his soul to be adored by its people. There is also sweet nostalgia and regret, such as in 'Je regrette mon Pressigny', 'Vois-tu, je m'en veux' and 'C'est pas Paris, c'est sa banlieu'.
Actually, the only track that I don't like is 'Si vous saviez' from Honneger's 'Les Aventures du Roi Pausole', which ironically enough is Graham's favorite. The aria, where the wife of a polygamous potentate begs her husband to sleep with her more than once a year, is meant to be sensuous but just drags. I suspect this his Honneger's fault, not Graham's.
The French-Canadian Yves Abel is an ideal conductor for this repertory. He has a strong affinity not only for French opera but also for comedy and light music in general; the latter two qualities were very evident at a Metropolitan Opera `Il Barbiere de Siviglia' this year. I also remember a fine performance of `La Grande-Duchesse de Gerolstein' he conducted with his company L'Opera Francais de New York and Stephanie Blythe. Under his baton the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra plays just like a French ensemble.
The documentation has full texts and translation of all the material and a fine essay on the works and the composers by Patrick O'Connor. Unfortunately, there is no biographical information for either Graham or Abel. Also, some people might have problems reading the white type on purple background for the translations (the type for the essay is the normal white-on-black), although I did not. As usual, my complaint about many modern CDs, especially those produced by Erato, applies here - there is less than an hour of music on a medium that can hold almost 80 minutes. I think it is unlikely that Graham and Abel couldn't find more good music in this vein, or even that they ran out of recording time. And speaking of Erato, I think it is a crime that that parent company Warner Classics dismissed not only Graham but many other fine operatic artists like Jose Cura, Daniel Barenboim, and Barbara Frittoli. At least the man now in charge of Warner regrets Graham's dismissal and is negotiating a new contract with her.
I am glad that so many star singers today are championing French rarities - not only Graham but also Roberto Alagna and Vesselina Kasarova, among others. I would recommend this not only to lovers of opera and operetta but also to fans of more 'popular' French music like Edith Piaf's and Jacques Brel's, or even to admirers of the American musical. It doesn't matter by which road you come to it - this material is delightful and the presentation is flawless. Most importantly, it is clear that everybody involved with the making of this disc had a great time, and anyone who listens to it will as well.
Refreshing stuff, but seldom flippant. Other than the X-rated Honegger song (who'd have thought sober-sided Artur H had a bawdy streak in him?) and the subtler but still eyebrow-raising Maurice Yvain number "Yes", the prevailing atmosphere is often surprisingly operatic. Surprising at any rate to me, since I can't recall hearing most of this material before. Reynaldo Hahn sometimes does a rather good Richard Strauss impersonation, as in "O mon bel inconnu", which suggests a Gallic version of ROSENKAVALIER's final trio.
Presumably Miss Graham sings all the vocal parts of this piece in a multi-tracking arrangement, but it would be nice to have been told in the booklet note whether this was the case. The short playing time deplored by Joy Fleisig is also a nuisance, since one wants even more of the same. Miss Fleisig rightly censured, in addition, the white-print-on-purple-background design which some graphic-design-school genius decided to employ for the lyrics' translations. So no fifth star for this review. The release remains a pretty enchanting (not to say enchanté) production, even if a native French singer would have cultivated - as native French singers will - an edgier, more acidic timbre than Miss Graham's warm, sonorous, very slightly cloudy tone. Altogether a splendid supplement to heftier and more austere listening.