Dominic Ambrose Blogblot

of words: narrative, film and non-fiction

Le Chanteur de Mexico has won over a reluctant Paris!

Le Chanteur de Mexico has won over a reluctant Paris!
July, 2007
It could have been a disaster. The decision of Théâtre du Chatelet’s new director, Jean-Luc Choplin to mount a production of this old chestnut, but he did it and it worked. “Le Chanteur de Mexico” is a well known French operetta from 1951, written by the now eclipsed composer Francis Lopez, and animated on the stage and screen by the dated matinee idol Luis Mariano, who aged in the part as that decade waxed and waned. For most Parisians, the very thought of this piece smelled of stale postwar cigarettes and grandmother’s lavender candies, so the challenge was daunting. It didn’t help that Choplin’s resume included a stint as artistic advisor “chez Disney” and at Galleries Lafayettes. They were smelling blood along the Seine. How did he turn it into a success?

The traffic stopping poster

The traffic stopping poster

He did it with a sophisticated gay friendly aesthetic that gave it a totally new spin, and a brash new appeal. The planning must have been mind boggling, but for the public, it began with the posters, the enormous Pierre et Giles posters that went up on Metro stations and elsewhere around the city in mid 2006. It stopped me dead in my tracks the first time I saw one. A nearly life sized, thoroughly charming young mariachi stands there, hand on hip in his black charro outfit so tight he seems to have been squeezed into it with a shoehorn and a jock cup, surrounded by a kitschy garland of plastic flowers and costume jewels. Kitsch is the operative word here, but a quality of kitsch that elevates it to the realm of true art.

The story has been modernized as well, with the use of a movie set story device and a touch of drag. The casting was also brilliant: Rossy de Palma, the earthy gay icon of Pedro Almodovar’s films is featured as the Diva, and Clotilde Courau, who plays a Montmartre flower vendor in the operetta but in real life is nothing less than a royal princess (of Savoia, as in the Italian royal family). The stunningly handsome Ismaël Jordi shines in the title role, with his clear, rich and powerful tenor voice that could be Roberto Alagna or the young Placido Domingo. In fact, it’s rumored that Roberto Alagna was approached about this role, but that he turned it down. No matter! Jordi, is brilliant and it is always exciting to see someone of such talent at the beginning of his career.

The staging is by Emilio Sagi, and is like a world of huge potted palms and Pierre et Gilles kitsch, a Carmen Miranda dollhouse come alive. The dialogs have been pared down to give more emphasis to the music. The music can be thin at times, and the services of a top rate orchestra are essential to win over the refined ears of this Parisian public, and this is accomplished perfectly by the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio-France, which fills this magnificent hall with rich sonority.

It was Choplin’s inaugural production in 2006, and it was such a success that it was reprised for the month of June, 2007. Now it is over, but surely not for another sleep of fifty years. There will certainly be more productions and opportunities to see it, especially with all the modern technologies. Right now it is easy to find Luis Mariano on YouTube singing the great Mexico production number with his Desi Arnaz style. I don’t doubt that Ismaëlito will be far behind.

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May 4, 2009 - Posted by | theater | , ,

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