Singer: Patricia Kaas
Music: Song by Édith Piaf
Very few French singers have had the honor of performing at Carnegie Hall, but Patricia Kaas is not just any French singer. She has probably been the most talented and popular of them all for a quarter of a century now, and since there is no justice, she can also boast of a unique classical beauty and an unequaled stage presence. In short, this consummate artist has it all, but she always seems eager for new challenges. So these days she is touring the globe to present a concert revolving around that other world-famous French singer: Édith Piaf.
That's how I found myself in a packed Isaac Stern Auditorium on Tuesday evening to hear - Gasp! - partly pre-recorded AND completely amplified music. Quite a shock to my system, especially within those beloved walls, but then again, anything for Patricia. The other surprise was to find myself not in the midst of a large crowd of my French countrymen, although they had obviously come out in force too, but surrounded by so many excited Russian nationals that I was half-expecting Eugene Kissin or Anna Netrebko, and not Patricia Kaas, to appear on stage any minute.
My fear quickly proved unfounded though, because she showed up right on time, professedly a bit intimidated by her prestigious surroundings, but otherwise totally poised to deliver a memorable show. Hearing and watching Patricia Kaas perform Édith Piaf's well-known and less well-known songs, I could not help but marvel at how incredibly distinctive their respective voices are, and how similar their remarkable power of instantaneously connecting with their mesmerized audiences was/is. Édith Piaf was probably the least intellectual singer ever, and this was constantly reflected in her spontaneous display of raw emotions. Although Patricia Kaas is by all accounts a classy and intelligent woman of our times, you can tell that she is not averse to channel Piaf's unreserved opening of heart and soul, and let it all pour out. Different eras, different voices, same uncompromising commitment to their art.
The biggest hits were, predictably, "Dans la foule", with its pulsing rhythms and catchy choreography, "Padam, padam", in all its life-afffirming energy, "Hymne à l'amour", all the more poignant in its basic simplicity, "Milord", accompanied by a touchingly unguarded Alain Delon via video projection, "La vie en rose", which led to a sensual pas-de-deux with a dashing shirtless young man, "Non, je ne regrette rien", the much acclaimed encore she fiercely sang in a glamorous modern Cinderella dress. The audience gobbled it all up, always eager for more.
While the use of a pre-recorded soundtrack is always to be deplored, there were also a couple of accomplished musicians onstage, who happily gave it to us live, if electrically-enhanced. I did not think that the violin was present enough while I found the accordion over-bearing, but this sentiment probably comes from my strong preference for the former instrument over the latter. (Sometimes I actually think that the accordion was invented so that the world would have an easily found reason to make fun of the French.) The occasional media components were nice touches, but mostly unnecessary, except maybe for the never seen or heard before footage and recordings of Édith Piaf. Let's face it, we were all there first and foremost for Patricia Kaas, and the woman has enough talent and charisma to immediately capture and keep everybody's attention without external help. Just like Édith Piaf.