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Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Fleur Pellerin - the French minister of culture who hasn't read a book for two years

Here's a question for you.

What was the last book you read?

Don't worry if you can't remember.

Or if your answer is that you haven't picked up on for a few months or even years.

Because you're not alone.

Fleur Pellerin (screenshot - clip from Le Supplément, Canal +)

Astonishingly enough (perhaps - although nothing should come as a surprise with what some might - unkindly - describe as the motley crew currently governing France)the country's minister of culture, Fleur Pellerin revealed at the weekend that she hasn't read a book for the past couple of years.

The admission came during Sunday's edition of Le Supplément on Canal + as Pellerin was being interviewed by the programme's host, Maïtena Biraben.

While waxing lyrical about a lunch she had shared with this year's winner of the Nobel prize for literature - French author Patrick Modiano - Pellerin was asked which of his books was her favourite.

The minister probably wished the ground would open up before her, as she let out the longest, "Er", smiling (or was that grimacing) with embarrassment before coming clean.

"I have to admit - without any difficulty - that I've not really had the time to read for the past two years," she said.

"I read a lot of notes, a lot of legislative texts, news, AFP stories, but I read very little otherwise."

A visibily gobsmacked Biraben gently pointed out that perhaps it was time to read something by Modiano who was, after all, "The Nobel prize winner this year."

All right, all right, culture isn't just about reading books. There's painting, music, sculpture, dance, theatre...heck a whole panoply of arts.

But from a country which has such a proud and rich literary tradition, and from the minister of culture to boot, such a disclosure comes as something of a shock...and of course opened the door for a deluge of criticism on social media.

That said, there was also support from some quarters for the 41-year-old's honesty.

Writing in L'Obs (Le Nouvel Observateur's new name) Dom Bochel Guégan defended Pellerin, saying that she had been "principled enough to recognise her ignorance and to admit it quite simply" and that maybe (as junior minister for Small and Medium-sized enterprises, innovation and the digital economy and then, since August, switching to the culture minister portfolio)  "she had perhaps been a little too busy over the past two years to find time to read."

True - after all politics is a full time job in itself.


Saturday, 25 October 2014

Perth opera company drops Bizet's "Carmen" for "smoking reasons"

Name an opera - a French one.

The chances are it'll be Georges Bizet's "Carmen" - famous among opera aficianados and those not so "in the know" if you like.

It's staged regularly worldwide and in fact - get this - is, according to Operabase, a company to which over 700 opera houses report their performances, only second (for the 2014-15 season) behind  Giuseppe Verdi's "La traviata".

It'll be performed at some of the most prestigious venues during the current season, including New York's Metropolitan opera, Dresden's Semperoper, La Scala in Milan,  and Prague, Hamburg, Madrid, Budapest, Saint Peterburg, London, Berlin...and so the list goes on.

Anna Caterina Antonacci (screenshot from "Carmen" at the Royal Opera House in London, 2013)

But, although it was also scheduled to be performed in Perth, Western Australia, the powers that be have decided to "cancel" it for the next two years.

And for, what on the face of it...and even when delving a little deeper...seems to be the most extraordinary - and not to say, ridiculous - of reasons.


The opera, which debuted in 1875 is partially set in and around a tobacco factory in the Spanish city of Seville with portrayals of smoking in the setting, action, libretto and least during the first act.

And that's apparently reason enough for the West Australia Opera Company to drop it from its schedules.

You see, from March 2015, the (state-owned) company has a two-year A$400,000 (around €270,000) partnership deal with the Western Australian government health agency  - Healthway.

West Australian Opera general manager Carolyn Chard said the company had voluntarily made the change to its schedule to accommodate Healthway's policies, describing it as "not difficult".

"We care about the health and wellbeing of our staff, stage performers and all the opera lovers throughout Western Australia," said Chard, adding that the decision had been a "voluntary" one to fit in with Heathway's policies.

Healthway chairwoman, Rosanna Capolingua, praised the decision, although she stressed that no pressure had been put on the opera company to drop "Carmen".

“The portrayal of smoking on stage, in film and on TV normalises smoking and presents it as being attractive, which could dissuade smokers from quitting and encourage young people to take it up.” she said.

What a lot of tosh - at least when it comes to an opera that has been so consistently performed down the decades.


Here's a clip of the most famous aria, "Habanera" from "Carmen", performed in 2013 at the Opéra Bastille in Paris and featuring Italian soprano Anna Caterina Antonacci in the title role.

Yes, she was blonde.

No, she didn't light up.

Friday, 24 October 2014

Friday's French music break - Étienne Daho, "En surface"

Friday's French music break this week is from a singer who first broke on to the music scene back in 1981.

It's "En surface", the most recent single from Étienne Daho and taken from his 2013 album "Les Chansons de l'innocence retrouvée"

Étienne Daho (screenshot from official video of "En surface".

As you can tell, Daho has been around a while and has built up a firm and loyal fan base and has become (in the words of the promotional blurb) "one of the most influential personalities to have emerged on the French scene in the last 30 years"

Part of the problem (for those not quite so enamoured of his music) is that Daho seems to have been "singing"  (inverted commas entirely intentional as he has a "voice" that surely only the French could "love") variations of the same song since the 1980s.

And in fact, he appears to be well and truly stuck in that era, offering up little that is sparklingly different, not to mention tuneful and instead relying on a tried and tested recipe of electro-pop "synth-driven and rock-surf influenced" (his English language Wikipedia entry, so you know it must be right). music which has, admittedly, served him well over the decades.

Very well in fact with every album turning gold or platinum and a slew of successful singles.

Granted "the familiarity factor" could probably be said to be true for many artists who've proven their longevity, but in the process, Daho just sounds too moody and bored when he sings. Don't you think?

"En surface" is one of those songs that you hear and wish would be over quickly because the melody and the "low whispery voice" have a combined soporific effect (for some) which will simply send you off to the Land of Nod.

All right. That's not exactly fair - just an opinion.

There are plenty around who have enjoyed, and continue to do so, Daho's music. And the album from which this track was taken, received some pretty good reviews when it was released.

Writing in Le Journal du dimanche, critic Éric Mandel described "Les Chansons de l'innocence retrouvée" as an "ambitious and elegant album" and one that was "sumptuous with songs that stood out for their emotional power."

Oh well.

And then there are the diehard fans, some of whose comments on the "En surface" video on YouTube are equally gushing

"Magnifique chanson , magnifique clip, magnifique chanteur, magnifique voix !" for example. Really, you shouldn't need to run that throught Google translate.


"Une très belle chanson."


"Ma chanson préférée de l'album.....octobre est encore loin  pour revivre la magie de ses concerts."

Ah October...and the "Diskönoir" tour which will, over the next few months, see Daho take the show on the road around France (with three dates at Olympia in Paris) Belgium and Luxembourg, plus a date in London on October 23.

Ready? Judge for yourselves.

Actually it's not so bad after a dozen or so hearings....

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