Saturday, June 21, 2014

La belle Lara

Rarely, rarely comes the spirit of delight, wrote Shelley. It came to me via Lara Fabian's concert DVD titled En toute intimité. It could be translated In All Intimacy -- but that doesn't sound right in English. However, everything else about the disc sounds exactly right.

Lara Fabian is a big star in France, perhaps in Europe generally. Since she sings in French and Italian, and there is something quintessentially French in her manner (albeit she was  raised in Belgium and now based in Québec), she is all but unknown in the U.S. I caught a few of hit songs from her albums streamed on the Internet, in mediocre sound quality and mostly with the overblown amplified beat-heavy arrangements producers think are necessary to sell recordings these days.

Even so, her vocal delivery impressed me enough to want to hear more and in better sound. Hence I placed this DVD at the head of my Netflix queue, despite its tag "Very long wait." So it was, about a month. Maybe the company had to order the disc from its French unit.

From the first chapter of En toute intimité, taped at Paris's Olympia theatre in 2003, I could tell this would contain the spirit of delight.

First off, the "intimité" of the title was well earned. Lara was accompanied only by a few acoustic instruments: two violins, a viola, and a cello (all played by shockingly beautiful women) plus piano -- the pianist captured the mood of the performance perfectly. The stage set designer and lighting director created a poetic ambience to frame the music.

Lara was, of course, almost always the center of attention and deserved it. Beyond the range of her voice, she is as much an acting singer or singing actress as an opera star. Every number is a dramatic scene. She can take all the close-ups the video editor wants to give her: lyrics play out in her face.

Her stage manner is highly kinetic at times, but she doesn't horse around with the typical histrionic gestures of so many pop stars (e.g., holding the microphone like a staff and swinging her arms wide in the pose of Moses parting the Red Sea). She suits the action to the word, the word to the action.

In this concert at least, her musical taste never falters. The songs are romantic, often sad; she gathers you inside them. They include a knockout version of Serge Lama's "Je suis malade," the aria "Addio del passato" from La Traviata, and "Immortelle," co-written by herself, in a performance that lives up to its name.

Also in the line-up is Jacques Brel's "Voir un ami pleurer" ("To See a Friend Cry"). I confess to having mixed feelings about Brel. I don't care for the way he speeds up during so many arrangements, or his habit of frequently moving to the front of the stage, backing up, and heading downstage again, like a man hesitating over whether to cross a road with heavy traffic. But he wrote some terrific songs, including "Voir ... ." I've heard lots of moving versions of it, and Lara's is certainly among the finest. If it doesn't squeeze your heart, check to see if you are alive.

Presumably the DVD has English titles, but I didn't turn them on. It meant that I failed to understand some of the lyrics, but I didn't want the aesthetics of the program cluttered up with written words.

I don't claim that Lara's way with songs is more spontaneous or sincere than any other performer's. This is show business, and every bit of vocal style and stage movement has been polished during rehearsals and other concerts. She may or may not actually feel the meaning of each number, but she makes you, as part of her audience, feel it.

Lara Fabian is a star to fall in love with. Obviously, not "real world" love of the kind we experience in our ordinary lives if we're lucky. It's love prompted by artifice, talent, attractiveness, glamour, and lovely surroundings. Sometimes l'amour is like that.

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