Madame Piaf

Throughout her life, Édith Piaf has never shied away from the naked truth. Those who have never been wrapped in absorbent cotton themselves are not inclined to transfiguration. In this respect, Marie Giroux approaches the diva in her new program “Madame Piaf” in the same way as she herself would probably have done: relentlessly and unpretentiously – only with considerably more charm and humor than Piaf herself knew how to radiate. And it takes little more than Giroux’s moderation to guess that here a French chanson singer dives into the life of another, even more famous chanson singer in a quite surprising way to present the other, less known side of the Piaf. “I have sagging breasts and a small, flat bottom,” the Giroux quotes the Piaf right at the beginning, “but I get the men anyway.

In a conservative black costume she leans casually against the piano. She blinks with her left eye during the sentence. Her whole face smiles amidst the long wild blonde curls. She is significantly taller than Édith Piaf with her 1.47 meters it once was. And also the fact that Giroux, actually a mezzo-soprano, does not describe herself with the phrase, can be seen at first glance. The evenings that promise to pay homage to the great Édith Piaf usually take place in the predictable realm – a roundel of often sad songs, somewhere between life in pink and nothing regret. The evenings approach the famous original sometimes more, sometimes less. If it runs optimally, the audience almost only misses that typical crackling of old shellac treasures, which distinguishes the original from the plagiarism. Almost.

Many female artists try their hand at the rich repertoire of the great Piaf, who had sung over 3000 songs in her lifetime when she died in October 1963. Especially this year, in which the probably greatest chanson singer of all times would have celebrated her 100th birthday, Piaf programs enjoy great popularity. But while most of them routinely string together only La vie en rose, Milord and Non, je ne regrette rien, Marie Giroux with pianist Jenny Schäuffelen and cellist Frédérique Labbow offers her audience an extraordinary excursion through the life of the famous and notorious, celebrated and feared Piaf.

It is not about how Piaf was abandoned by her biological mother shortly after birth, neglected by one of her grandmothers and raised in a brothel by the other. It is not about her father, who was prone to violent excesses and addicted to alcoholism, the early death of her only daughter or the murder of her mentor. With the support of Labbow, Giroux and Schäuffelen discuss with wit and witty repartee no less authentic views of Piaf’s life, which is steeped in tragedy: they devote themselves to the numerous loves and their benefits for big little Piaf. It’s about getting anyway.

That sounds like a dangerous tightrope walk. After all, rousing stage entertainment can justifiably be considered a great art. It is all about successfully reconciling contradictions: An artist has to meet the expectations of the audience in terms of content, at best he may exceed them, but at the same time he has to surprise them. The trio Giroux, Schäuffelen and Labbow, who are also touring alongside Tim Bendzko and Andreas Bourani, succeed in this inimitably. In “Madame Piaf”, the three music college graduates prove their impressive versatility, both through sensitive and refreshing original arrangements of the chansons with surprising instrumental changes and in the originality with which they take on the men and women who lined the path of Piaf’s life.

Sometimes they themselves were already famous, boxers or cyclists or Marlene Dietrich, sometimes they became it in the wake of the little charismatic singer. And so Giroux surprises her audience in the “unmasking of a diva” with the great men of the chanson, from Charles Aznavour, Piaf’s former private secretary, to Gilbert Bécaud, Yves Montand, Georges Moustaki, who wrote for Piaf Milord, to Jacques Pills and Johnny Hallyday, the French soft rocker, who was not even helped by the fact that he actually still fell under puppy protection when he met Piaf. The new Piaf program shows how Giroux has studied the Piaf intensively for over half a year in order to put together an amusing evening entertainment without unnecessary prudery but with expertise, which is not only musically rousing. Swept away my love affairs and all their whining, swept away forever”, sang the Piaf in her most famous chanson, “I start from zero, because my life, my happiness begin today with you”.