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Friday, 29 March 2013

Carla Bruni-Sarkozy "stands by her man"

It was one of those Tammy Wynette moments; the former top model-cum singer, actress and one-term France's first lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy appearing on RTL radio on Wednesday morning, close to tears and almost (but not quite) unable to speak.

The performance of what some might unfairly say to be true Oscar-nomination proportions came as Bruni-Sarkozy responded to a question about a  judge's decision last week to open a criminal investigation into her husband (the former president Nicolas Sarkozy just in case you were unaware) and whether there had been an "abuse of weakness" in his alleged "dealings" with the elderly L’Oréal heiress Liliane Bettencourt.

Of course Bruni-Sarkozy was really on the show to promote her soon-to-be released album (April 1 - and that's no Fool) "Little French songs".

But the pain she "and the whole family" is suffering and her desire for the truth to be told are also doing the rounds in a series of virtual copy-and-paste interviews in some of the French national dailies.

"It is so unimaginable that this man could abuse the weakness of a woman who is the same age as his mother," said the singer in a faltering voice.

 "... I do not know what to's unthinkable. "

Yes, it was a radio moment rich in emotion and one which perhaps brought a lump to the throat and made you want to reach for your hanky.

While Bruni-Sarkozy was struggling to put on a brave public face, her husband, who has vowed "to clear his name over the allegations", was out and about cracking jokes while on a visit to Belgium the very same day.

And any suggestion that this might be Bruni-Sarkozy demonstrating "thespian" qualities in an attempt to influence anyone and elicit sympathy (and sales) is just...well small-minded.

She's a woman in love (oh no, the cue for yet another song - go away Barbra, this is Tammy's gig).


Thursday, 28 March 2013

Allez Les Bleus - for the draw

Let's talk football for a moment.

As you might know France took on Spain in a World Cup qualifier on Tuesday evening.

Much of the talk here before the match was characterised by speculating on the chances of Les Bleus beating the reigning World and double European champions.

After all in their previous match last Friday, France had convincingly beaten Georgia 3-1 while Spain had dropped a point in a 1-1 draw at home to Finland.

Oh yes and let's not forget that when France and Spain met in October 2012, the game finished in a 1-1 draw.

Reason to be optimistic then and everyone in France was hopeful of a win.

All that is apart from one notable exception - the country's "normal" president François Hollande.

The man his staff at the Elysée palace apparently refer to "affectionately" as "pépère" was in suitably fine laid-back form as he appeared at a press conference alongside Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy on the same day as the match.

Mariano Rajoy and François Hollande (screenshot i>Télé)

The two men had been discussing pressing matters such as the economic crisis and the rise in unemployment throughout Europe and of course took questions on those and other subjects.

But towards the end there was also a lighter moment when they were asked for their predictions for the evening's encounter on the pitch - after all they would be attending the game together.

And Hollande, appearing fittingly small fry with Rajoy towering next to him, gave perhaps the most telling of responses as he said, "For lots of reasons the best result for France would be a draw."

"Non mais allo quoi," to quote TV reality star Nabilla's popular catchphrase.

This was the French president speaking wasn't it?

Isn't it kinda, like, all right for a country's leader to show a little more support and enthusiasm for a national side in any sport?

Rajoy had no such problems as he answered the same question.

"If you don't mind, I don't agree," he said.

"I think the best result would be a win for Spain."

Ah well, "pépère" is only living up to his reputation of not wanting to offend anyone isn't he?

It bodes well for his planned live interview with TV news anchor David Pujadas on France 2 on Thursday evening.

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Friday, 22 March 2013

Laura Hayoun appears on BFM TV to mark World Down Syndrome Day

Laura Hayoun with "Premiere edition" co-anchors Christophe Delay and Pascale de La Tour du Pin (screenshot BFM TV)
BFM TV might not be your favourite French television channel, but there's no doubting its success.

Launched in 2005, it's freely available on TNT (digital television) satellite and cable and has become, according to industry figures, the leading news network in France - a label it's more than happy to share with viewers.

It operates on the same principle as CNN, delivering rolling news at a fast pace (by French standards) sometimes giving extensive coverage to breaking stories to the extent that nothing much seems to be happening a great deal of the time.

You know the sort of thing: President's 'plane arrives somewhere and there's a BFM TV journalist (among the throng) on-hand waiting to describe every breath-taking moment as the air-stairs are manœuvred into position, the door opens and he (or sometimes she) makes an appearance before pressing the flesh with the reception committee.


Yes sometimes rolling news and the requirement to fill air time produces less-than magnificent viewing.

Every weekday morning "Premiere edition", hosted by co-anchors Christophe Delay and Pascale de La Tour du Pin (you might think that something of a mouthful but have pity on her husband Jean-Philippe, comte de La Tour du Pin Chambly de La Charce) brings viewers the news as we've all come to "love and accept" it - bite-size and easily digestible.

There's a mix of conviviality with professionalism, but you probably shouldn't watch more than 15 minutes otherwise you'll discover yourself in "Groundhog Day" territory because that's the nature of rolling news.

Except on Thursday something different happened, proving that BFM can indeed sometimes get things very right.

Laura Hayoun (screenshot BFM TV)
March 21 was the eighth anniversary of World Down Syndrome Day, an event which the channel was determined to mark by inviting 19-year-old Laura Hayoun on to the show and having her read some the eight o'clock headlines alongside La Tour du Pin.

It was a great and heartwarming television moment and one to be repeated by Hayoun who has also been invited to appear on Alessandra Sublet's "C à vous" on France 5 and has  interviewed journalist Yves Calvi on his programme on RTL radio.

And BFM TV will be airing a special "day in the life" report on Hayoun on Saturday evening's "7 jour BFM" show.

Behind the scenes -  a report on the preparations for going live.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

The French government's love for European affairs

Guess how many ministers France has had for European affairs over the past decade.

Go on guess.

Give up?

The magic figure is 11 after the appointment on Monday of Thierry Repentin to the job.

Thierry Repentin
(screenshot TSI TV interview, February 2012)

All right so he had to step into the shoes of his predecessor Bernard Cazeneuve who was promoted to the post of budget minister in a mini-reshuffle following Jérôme Cahuzac's resignation after being placed under formal investigation for tax fraud and money laundering (now there's a suprise, a government minister accused of alleged financial impropriety, but that's another story)

But Repentin's er..."elevation" to the job, is surely very telling of consecutive French governments' attitude to the position.

Just look at the list of those who've been where Repentin is about "to boldly go" and how long they've spent in a post which, given the  nature and complexity of "Brussels" cannot be an easy one to grasp.

Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres - just over one month in 2002, Noëlle Lenoir - almost two years, Claudie Haigneré - 15 months, Catherine Colonna - just under two years, Jean-Pierre Jouyet - just over one-and-a-half years, Bruno Le Maire - six months, Pierre Lellouche - just under one-and-a-half years, Laurent Wauquiez - seven months, Jean Leonetti - 11 months, Bernard Cazeneuve - 10 months and Thierry Repentin - ?

Crikey, not even Britain with its somewhat ambivalent approach to European affairs has had such a high turnover rate in the same period - eight in the past decade.

It surely indicates one of two things (or both at the same time perhaps); firstly that the ministry doesn't really count for much and the job isn't really important and secondly France doesn't give European affairs much priority.

The best that can perhaps be said is the it's "only" a junior ministry and the top job (under whose umbrella it comes) of foreign minister over the same period has been slightly

There again given the nature of French politics and the tendency of successive presidents to take over the reins when necessary, the job of foreign minister has also been something of a musical chairs with seven politicians, including the incumbent Laurent Fabius, holding the post.

So how long will Repentin last as minister for European affairs? Well on past form around 13 months - but don't hold your breath.

Friday, 8 March 2013

Friday's French music break - Vigon Bamy Jay, "Feelings"

Take a couple of old geezers who've both had long careers but not ones that have seen them hit the headlines perhaps as much as they deserved, mix together with a former member of a now defunct television talent show winning group and allow them to sing one of the most excruciatingly sentimental songs ever and welcome to Friday's French music break, "Feelings".

The trio currently wooing French airwaves with their rendition of the song are
Vigon Bamy Jay.

Vigon (right) Bamy (left) Jay (seated) - screenshot from official video

It's the first track to be released from their album "Les Soul men" and most definitely rates high on the barf value: not so much for their talent - which all three undeniably have - but more for the choice of a song which over the years has surely come to symbolise schmaltz.

Vigon (Abdelghafour Mouhsine) is a Moroccan rhythm and blues singer who came to the wider public's attention in 2012 during the first edition of The Voice.

The sprightly 67-year-old has a long musical pedigree as does another member of the trio  Gaudeloupe-born Érick Bamy -  another singer in his 60s.

Bamy, a former backing singer to Johnny Hallyday, had his "big break" in another television programme last year, the French version of the "Got talent" show imaginatively entitled "La France a un incroyable talent".
And it was yet another talent show which launched the career of the third member of the trio, Jay Kani.

He was a member of the R'n'B group Poetic Lover which won "Graines de star" back in 1997, had a string of hit singles and a best-selling album "Amants poétiques" a year later but eventually disbanded in 2000.

With voices that have an individual quality and a pedigree in R'n'B and soul, it's a shame the three have chosen to release yet another version of a song which became an international hit for Brazilian one-hit wonder Morris Albert back in 1975 and has been covered by just about anybody and everybody over the years.

And that includes a version by Israeli singer Mike Brant who brought the song "back to France" in a manner of speaking the same year Albert was having a hit with it everywhere else in English.

Brant released "Dis lui", which you'll notice is also the refrain used in the Vigon Bamy Jay recording.

At this point you might be asking how come "back to France"?

Well the person responsible for the melody in the first place was French songwriter Louis "Loulou" Gasté who, back in 1988, successfully sued Albert for copyright infringement of the his 1957 song "Pour toi" and was officially recognised as "the sole creator of the song".

Anyway, Vigon Bamy Jay are giving a private concert in Paris on March 13 and the album "Les Soul men" contains covers of much more worthwhile songs which should show off their individual and collective talents better including "Sitting on the dock of the bay", "Ain't no sunshine" and "Unchained melody".

It's just a pity they chose to release "Feelings" as the first single.

But judge for yourselves and maybe visit their official website for more information and updates.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Rossini's "La Cenerentola" in Paris - is it second helpings or leftovers?

If you like your opera served up in easy to digest portions, then you probably can't beat Gioachino Rossini.

Arguably his best known works are "Il barbiere di Siviglia" and  "La Cenerentola", both of which have become staples at opera houses around the world.

And right now in Paris it's "La Cenerentola" which is back for the second time this season at the Palais Garnier.

A different line up from the first "helping" at the end of last year (all right enough already of the food references) but well worth seeing if only for the undeniable architectural opulence of the Palais Garnier and that wonderful Marc Chagall painted ceiling.

Palais Garnier, Marc Chagall painted ceiling

Oops. This review is supposed to be of the opera, not the setting.

But it's difficult not be impressed by the Palais Garnier, especially when the performance you're watching and listening to doesn't live up to your expectations.

And so it was with "La Cenerentola", which is a shame really as from the opening chords of the overture you know you're going to be in for something special as the music is a "light and energetic" prelude to what is to follow.

As with much opera, the plot of La Cenerentola" (libretto Jacopo Ferretti) is pretty pants.

It's Rossini's Cinderella without the "supernatural" flavour of Charles Perrault's original "Cendrillon" (no Fairy Godmothers or glass slippers) but retaining the moralising of good triumphing over evil.

The Orchestre de l’Opera National de Paris, under conductor Riccardo Frizza, took some stick earlier on in the season but quite frankly was more than up to the job.

The underperformers were rather the singers.

The great overacting (yes, opera singers can now act in spite of clichés that might abound, and besides it rather a prerequisite for a successful Rossini performance) was as hammed-up as warranted but it was accompanied by some - at times - disappointing singing.

The chorus was wonderful and Jean-Pierre Ponnelle's production - even though it's more than 40 years old - has stood the test of time.

But both lead voices, Italian tenor Antonino Siragusa as Don Ramiro and Italian mezzo soprano Serena Malfi as Angelina, were sometimes lost and submerged by the orchestra.

And they couldn't always manage the elaborate nature of the coloratura without resorting to belting out the high notes at unnecessarily full volume.

They were good but not exceptional.

Missing was the subtlety of a truly great performance such as the one Cecilia Bartoli gave in the role of Angelina at New York's Metropolitan opera in 1997.

Ah. Memories!

Still, the setting is magnificent (if you don't know the Palais Garnier, try doing an Internet image search - it's well worth it) and "La Cenerentola" remains a real delight and continues its run at the Palais Garnier until the end of March.

Palais Garnier (from Wikipedia)

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