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Friday, 18 April 2014

Friday's French music break - Angela Gheorghiu and Piotr Beczała, "La bohéme"

True to form this week's Friday's French music break isn't

Still, the setting of Italian composer Giacomo Puccini's 1896 (yep, bang up to date) opera "La bohème" is Paris (the Latin quarter to be exact) and what is probably one of his best-known and popular works has just finished the first of two runs at l'Opéra Bastille.

Setting the opera in the 1930s as the (now 20-year-old) Jonathan Miller production does, might have upset some aficionados down the years, but quite frankly with Romanian soprano (and ace diva) Angela Gheorghui up there on stage as Mimi, supported by Polish tenor Piotr Beczała as Rudolfo, who gives a damn?

The pair reprise the roles they performed together in San Francisco five years ago.

Angela Gheorghiu and Piotr Beczała (screenshot from San Francisco Opera preview, 2008)

Angela Gheorghiu and Piotr Beczała (screenshot from San Francisco Opera preview, 2008)

Gheorghui, suitably capricious and coquettish (both vocally and in terms of behavious with nobody quite knowing how she would perform on the night) in a role that has become one of her "fetishes" or signature pieces.

Beczała with a fine voice, but perhaps lacking the resonance of others who've sung the role and finding himself almost competing at times with the orchestra under Israeli conductor  Daniel Oren the

Ah "La bohème"!

Yes the libretto is far from being mindblowing. It's all about romance; "a love affair between a poor poet ( Rudolfo) and an equally hard-up seamstress" (Mimi) - doomed because, although they're made for each other, he's jealous of her flirtatiousness and she has consumption, to which she succumbs in the final act.

That's the not-quite "Brodie's Notes"-like plot version. Full of melodrama and lacking the great themes of some of Puccini's other works perhaps.

But - and it's a big but - "La bohème" is stuffed to bursting point with heart-rending arias and the most exquisite arrangements.

Puccini could pen a tune or two!

Anyway, Gheorghui and Beczała's  run came to an end on April 11.

Bravos all round as each member of the cast took their individual bows at regular intervals after the final performance with Gheorghui pausing just long enough to let everyone who was really the star, before making her way on to the stage.

But you can still catch ""La bohéme" at La Bastille in July with another Romanian soprano, Anita Hartig (who made her New York Metropolitan Opera debut debut in the role at the beginning of April) , and Italian tenor, Massimo Giordano, taking over the main roles.

Well worth seeing.

For the moment though, here's a "preview" video clip of excerpts of Gheorghui and Beczała performing in "La Bohème" in San Francisco in 2008.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Do polls "predicting" François Hollande defeat in first round 2017 French presidential elections make any sense?

Ah political polls. Don't you just love 'em?

The frequency with which they're commissioned and published in France would have you believe the French do...well at least the country's media does when the news schedule is slack or journalists feel like a good old job of "professional" political speculation.

The latest "nonsense" poll to be published is one carried out by OpinionWay for Le Figaro and LCI telling us that if the 2017 presidential election were to take place today (well, you know how these things work) François Hollande would not make it past the first round.

He would only win 18 per cent of the vote in the first round, trailing both the far-right Front National (FN) leader Marine Le Pen (25 per cent) and the (presumed) candidate for the centre-right Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (Union for a Popular Movement, UMP) Nicolas Sarkozy (29 per cent).

In other words the presidential second round in 2017 would be between Le Pen and Sarkozy.

(screenshot OpinionWay poll of voting intentions)

"Allô ! Non mais allô, quoi," to quote a great modern day French thinker.

What's this all about.

Seriously - forecasting results three years hence, based on a poll taken today is...well, misleading to say the least.

Of course it's probably one of the drawbacks of the "quinquennat" or the five-year presidential mandate passed by Jacques Chirac in 2000 and first used in 2002 to replace the previous seven-year term in office.

No sooner has a president been elected in France, than attention seems to focus on what might or could happen five years down the line.

Of course Hollande is unpopular at the moment. We know that because...well the polls keep telling us and the media delights in repeating it.

But predicting that Hollande might not even make it past the first round in 2017 when he's not even halfway through his term in office is...well surely complete and utter nonsense.

In fact it's a non story and one of pure fiction.

Sure it feeds into the widely-held (according to those very same opinion polls) belief that Hollande is incompetent, lacks clear vision and was the major reason for his Socialist party's defeat in last month's local elections,

But in and of itself, the survey says nothing about the likely outcome in 2017. Rather it's just a snapshot of current opinion and the image those polled have of Hollande.

After all, if a week is proverbially "a long time in politics", what the heck does that make three years?

Not convinced? Then just take a look at what a poll, taken at a similar stage during Sarkozy's term in office, predicted for the first round of the 2012 election - two years before the Dominique Strauss-Kahn affair hit the headlines.

Sarkozy followed by Martine Aubry and François Bayrou.

(screenshot La Nouvelle Edition, Canal +)

The actual result (just in case you needed a reminder) Hollande 28.63 per cent, Sarkozy 27.18 per cent and Le Pen 17.90 per cent.

Friday, 11 April 2014

Friday's French music break - Compagnie Blanca Li, "Robot!"

Friday's French music break this week is something a little different.

First of all it's not French.

And second of all (don't you just hate it when people say that?) it's not music.

Instead it a performance of "Robot!" (with music of course) from the Blanca Li dance company.

It's the Spanish choreographer's latest creation and one which premiered at the Festival Montpellier Danse 2013 and then ran for a series of 11 dates at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris at the end of last year and the beginning of 2014 before going on a national tour of France.

Images (screenshot from video trailer of "Robot!" on Blanca Li official site)

Li sets out to explore the relationship between human beings and machines - in all their forms including robots, computers, vending terminals, cash distributors, barcodes and GPS.

And in the process she poses questions such as "whether our robotic alter egos will one day express feelings?" And if so, "would they be a reflection of what humanity unconsciously wants to represent?"

To help her explore these (and other) issues, Li enrolled the help of the most bizarre and "wonderfully whimsical" music composed and played by the Japanese art group Maywa Denki and their "elaborately over-engineered electronic and mechanical instruments and devices".

And the miniature NAO robots (provided by the French robotics company Aldebaran), taking their very first steps, "dancing" in unison or giving a rendition of "Besame Mucho" (with Li's voice).

Images (screenshot from video trailer of "Robot!" on Blanca Li official site)

In the midst of all this are the company's eight dancers who put on a sometimes graceful, often gymnastic and always exhausting physical display.

Sure, "Robot!" isn't everyone's choreographed cup of tea but it's entertaining and innovative nonetheless.

And there's something rather thought provoking surely about the idea of those in the audience perhaps pondering (or not) as to what the heck they're doing watching a robot "sing and dance".

There are still a handful of dates scheduled in France for both ""Robot!" and another show the company is currently performing, "Elektro kif".

You can find out when and where on the official website.

For the moment though, here's a glimpse of what you might have missed...possibly without regret. But there again dance, just any other art form, is a matter of personal taste.

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