Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Hymne A’ Piaf (Hymn to Piaf) by Caroline Nin ****1/2

Hymne A’ Piaf (Hymn to Piaf) 
By Caroline Nin
Melbourne Recital Centre, June 2 to 5, 2010
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: ****1/2

French chanteuse, Caroline Nin, is captivating. In her cabaret show, Hymn to Piaf, she reinvents, in her own thrilling style, a programme of 13 moving songs that characterised “the little sparrow”, Edith Piaf. It is a loving tribute to Piaf, not an impersonation.

Almost magically at the start, the tall, elegant Nin materialises from dim light, speaking the English lyrics of Les Mots D’Amour, before singing it in French. With her chiselled features and fair hair, skilful storytelling and rich, smoky, vocal tones, she charms and seduces us with song after song. It is a carefully crafted programme with emotional and dynamic range.

In carefully articulated, slightly accented English, she introduces each song with the tale of the song to follow. She prowls the stage or perches on a stool, tantalising us with her sensuality and inviting us to share stories of the murky Parisian underworld known to Piaf in her disreputable past.

She alternates between earthy and ethereal, leaning toward us like a whispering lover, planting her long legs, gesturing with graceful arms, and capturing us with her expressive, slightly sad gaze. A silvery glitter beneath her eye glints like a tear when she lifts her head to the light.

The singing style shifts from the nasal tones of Piaf to complex jazz notes, intimate ballads and impassioned lamentations. Jonathan Schwartz (double bass) and Tom O’Halloran (piano) provide masterly, heartfelt accompaniment.

Mon Vieux Lucien (My Old Lucien) she sings as a cheeky, Parisian pickpocket, who visits his old boss, Lucien. La Foule (The Crowd) is passionate and expressive while Mon Dieu (My Lord), a dark lament, is carefully underplayed. Faut Pas Qu’il Se Figure is a haunting song about a haunted girl waiting for her cheating lover.  Nin sings La Vie En Rose – one of Piaf’s signature tunes – simply and compellingly in a jazz style.

L’Accordeoniste and Milord are homages to “les filles de joie” (the girls of joy), a pretty French way to describe prostitutes. Nin sings with both pain and wild abandonment, “I’m only a girl of the harbour, in the shadow of the street.” She finishes with a deliciously fervent rendition of Je Ne Regrette Rien (No Regrets) and an encore of Padam, in which she insists we sing along.

Caroline Nin is luminous, spirited, unpredictable and warm. This is a night to remember.

By Kate Herbert

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