Thursday, February 21, 2013

A wasted evening

Zenith theatre, ToulouseI became a fan of the music of Abel Korzeniowski after hearing his soundtrack to the 2009 film A Single Man. I was very excited to learn that he had arranged a new album for the singer Patricia Kaas as a tribute to Edith Piaf.

The album Kaas chante Piaf commemorates the fiftieth anniversary of Piaf’s death in 1963 at the  shockingly young age of 47 – six years prior to Judy Garland also exiting the stage at 47, or if you want to stretch a point, Laura Branigan in 2004 at the same fateful age. I wonder if someone’s keeping a list akin to the 27 Club for this demographic?

Anyway I purchased the album and was duly impressed by both the Korzeniowski treatments, and Kaas’  interpretations, although a bit pissed off that I had to get extra tracks from iTunes at lower audio quality than one could get from other sources. There’s a making-of video showing Korzeniowski in action here on YouTube.

The album release was tied in with a tour, happily with a concert in Toulouse scheduled before we shuffled off from the farm (less dramatically than the above songstresses) as I was unlikely to be able to see Korzeniowski conducting his own music in Australia. It was also nice to be leaving with a concert of some of the signature works that introduced me to French culture when I was a student, busily devouring all my college friends’  record and cassette collections. The first professionally staged musical production that I ever recall seeing was Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris which shared with Piaf’s repertoire a kind of melancholic intensity I hadn’t encountered in Anglophone culture.

I hoped to find a pre-concert option for a nice meal for myself and Gustav – I don’t think I’ve ever had more than takeaway quality meal in Toulouse – and search around online for local restaurants and cafes which might have an open kitchen before 7.30pm. I even contacted the Toulouse tourist office, but they couldn’t suggest anything that didn’t require a substantial slog through peak hour traffic from the city centre. In the area of the venue, the Zenith theatre, they advised  “vous ne trouverez pas de restaurants pour diner avant 19h30.” It’s rather unbelievable  that one of France’s largest cities has so few dining options, especially lacking any that can be coupled with an evening performance. With a long drive back to the farm afterwards, post-concert dining is even less viable.

We had a look for options around the shopping precinct at Blagnac and thought we’d struck gold with a Chinese buffet. While billing itself as “all day”, that actually meant “all day except for between 2 and 6.30pm” so we hung around outside until 6.30 pm after I confirmed that buffet service would be available then. We were seated at a table by someone else and handed an a la carte menu. I re-asserted that we were here for the buffet, after which someone else came out and apologised and said that would be another fifteen minutes. We waited longer and then were directed to an area with a few sad looking plates of cold salads and none of the buffet options advertised. At this point exasperation and hunger overtook taste, and we went to McDonalds.

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When we got to Le Zenith*, which is something like a smaller version of the Sydney Entertainment Centre, we found the locals’ dining option – a greasy-spoon or “boui-boui” van parked outside the venue gates. You can see the line to it in the photo above. Classy. They do know what “zenith” means don’t they?

The foyer of the Zenith is functional concrete, steel and glass. Our dining options have increased to buying bags of roasted nuts. Inside the auditorium, which is quite full already, the pre-concert recorded music is the Australian brother and sister act Angus and Julia Stone singing the song “Wasted”. I’m going to guess that most readers aren’t familiar with the song, but it’s not a Gallic anthem to a misspent life, and the way the title is sung “waaaasted” is the way an Australian indicates that they are extremely intoxicated. I’m sure that whoever chose is it is the same person who programs “Fuck You” in every French supermarket.

There’s a support act it seems, a guy singing Brel songs. It’s a real club act presentation with a sequenced accompaniment - the horrendous high register digital piano keeps threatening to break into La Campanella. The less said about the synthetic accordion during Port of Amsterdam the better.

Intermission: back to the Stone siblings. I do actually have one of their albums, so I’m not quibbling about the quality of their music, but it does seem a bit out of place here.

Now I’ve already worked out from the auditorium arrangement that we’re not going to see a live orchestra of any size tonight so I’m approaching the main act with some trepidation. Exactly what are we getting?

Well it turns out we get Ms Kaas, a guy on what I think is a digital piano that sounds just a little off, a violinist who may be miming, and a hip hop dancer, popping and locking incongruously to Piaf songs, and then a pre-recorded backing that sounds worlds away from what was on the album. It’s all blasted with unbearably heavy bass amplification.  No gorgeous Korzeniowski strings.

After about three songs I have a headache, partly from the audio onslaught and partly from worrying what Gustav must be thinking. After another one or two, I ask him if he minds leaving. We’re gone.

So that was a hugely disappointing outing. Do buy the CD if any combination of Piaf, Kaas and Korzeniowski moves you, but whatever we just witnessed on stage is to be avoided.

* I was going to include a link to the venue’s website, but the city of Toulouse’s website now tells me “Aucun résultat n'a été trouvé avec les mots clés suivants : zenith”.

1 comment:

  1. Anita8:35 pm

    I went to an Angus & Julia Stone concert in Sydney once...I wanted to kill myself after half an hour.

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