Les Parapluies de Cherbourg I Théâtre du Châtelet
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Les Parapluies de Cherbourg

Théâtre du Châtelet

In Review Paris Chatelet Parapluies de Cherbourg hdl 1214
Oppert and Dessay in Les Parapluies de Cherbourg at the Châtelet
© Marie Noëlle Robert 2014

Jacques Demy’s 1964 film musical Les Parapluies de Cherbourg is an iconic piece of Gallic kitsch that brought stardom to the young Catherine Deneuve and spawned two international hit songs, “I Will Wait For You” and “Watch What Happens,” for composer Michel Legrand. The glowing physical beauty of Deneuve and her costar, Italian heartthrob Nino Castelnuovo, had its effect, but both were assigned voice doubles for Legrand’s unusual through-composed score, which was nominated for an Oscar. The Châtelet sensibly opted not to challenge the bright Technicolor of Demy’s classic celluloid, which had period charm even back in 1964, and provided a semi-staging by Vincent Vittoz, with decorative elements by veteran cartoonist Jean-Jacques Sempé, played in front of an orchestra conducted by the eighty-two-year-old composer.

As the band struck up the unforgettable love-duet theme, which punctuates the ninety-minute evening with relentless regularity, Noël Coward’s judgment from Private Lives came to mind: “Extraordinary how potent cheap music is.” The originality of the film score is that every word, down to the perfunctory arrival of the postman, is set to music — a mundane filigree of sung text clumsily crammed over the romantic underlay of Legrand’s somewhat bloated score. Luckily, Vittoz kept this sentimental story of love and separation moving fluently, and Sempé’s decorative elements were a pure delight.

At curtain-up, the audience cheered Legrand to the rafters as one of Sempé’s panels was pulled aside to reveal the master of nostalgic film music wielding a protective umbrella. The composer conducted his own enriched orchestration with age-defying energy and was rewarded with superb playing from the Orchestre National d’Île-de-France. The only negative element of the evening was the blanket amplification of both singers and musicians — a recurrent fault of the recent musicals at the Châtelet. There are techniques available to provide a directional sense for the voices, and also to avoid the saturation of the excellent brass playing. 

One of the main points of interest on September 11 was the appearance of Natalie Dessay as the heroine’s mother, Madame Emery (played in the film by the chic French actress Anne Vernon). The soprano has been recording and touring the country in concert with Legrand to much media acclaim. Here she bustled and fidgeted in her umbrella shop as if to the manner born and coaxed her pregnant daughter into marrying the noble jeweler Cassard with selfless devotion. Vocally, Dessay betrays her operatic origins by looking for a subtle musical phrase or a neat vocal pirouette where this music needs to be driven by clarity of text, something that her husband, baritone Laurent Naouri, understood perfectly as Cassard, delivering the most impressive performance of the evening. 

The young lovers, Geneviève and Guy, were touchingly played — without any vocal pretension — by Marie Oppert and Vincent Niclo. Fine support was offered by Jasmine Roy as his long-suffering Aunt Elise; her nurse Madeleine, Guy’s future wife, was sung by Louise Leterme. There was a standing ovation from the first-night audience; nobody would dare begrudge them this classy piece of nostalgia. spacer 



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