Les Parapluies de Cherbourg


Les Parapluies de Cherbourg jazz opera. Music by Michel Legrand. Based on the 1964 film of the same name directed by Jacque Demy. Directed 2014 at the Paris Théâtre du Châtelet. Stars Marie Oppert (Geneviève Emery), Vincent Niclo (Guy Foucher), Natalie Dessay (Madame Emery), Laurent Naouri (Roland Cassard), and Louise Leterm (Madeleine). Also stars, with numerous small roles each, Jasmine Roy, Franck Vincent, Franck Lopez, Arnaud Léonard, Valentin Johner, Salem Sobihi, and Elsa Dreisig.  Stage musicians are Denis Leloup (trombone), François Laizeau (drums), Claude Egea (trumpet), Pierre Boussaguet (double bass), and Pierre Perchaud (guitar). Michel Legrand conducts the Orchestre national d’Ile-de-France. Sets by Vincent Vittoz; designs by Jean-Jacques Sempé and Vincent Vittoz; costumes by Vanessa Seward; lighting by Renaud Corler. Directed for TV by Denis Caïozzi.  Released 2014, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: A+

Les Parapluies de Cherbourg was a hit motion picture film in 1964 with the teen-age Catherine Deneuve starring in her first film. Music by Michel Legrand played straight through the flick. There were no singing numbers, but all the dialog was sung by trained singers (as close as possible to spoken rhythm) and dubbed in. The original film-stocks soon faded and the film seemed lost. But an excellent version of the film is now available in Blu-ray after being re-created from a master record kept in archive.

50 years passed. Most of the people involved in the film had died. But Michel Legrand, now in his 80s, and others put together a semi-staged, symphonic version of Parapluies to be performed as an opera. A symphony orchestra on stage plays straight through along with a stage band to provide extra jazz emphasis. The stars can all sing and act and several are world-famous opera personalities. Visually, the goal is to present a "singing Matisse" with brilliant color provided by the costumes (and umbrellas) and original scenery designs in black-and-white cartoon style.

So subject HDVD is a recording of the world première of the staged Parapluies story published by Erato.  Earlier, I decided not to cover an Erato Blu-ray of Legrand songs, Entre elle et lui, on the grounds that it wasn't classical music (even though Natalie Dessay was the star singer).  I have to draw a line somewhere.

Now what do I do about Parapluies? HDVDarts doesn't cover musicals because they don't have the sophisticated and high-quality music expected in opera. Well, the music here easily gets past musicals into operetta territory. But Parapluies has nothing frivolous or silly about it, so it doesn't fit comfortably into the operetta category. This Parapluies is a unique work---a jazz opera with a serious subject. It reminds me a bit of the Brecht/Weill Die Dreigroschenoper (The Threepenny Opera), which is usually considered a play with musical elements. But I will cover this in the opera category rather than as a play.

When I review a production of a well-known opera, I often focus on the story line. But I think you may not know this story. (I missed the movie in 1964 because I was serving abroad in the Army. And it's too old for my kids to know it.) So I've come up with some screen shots to inspire you to try this without, I hope, spoiling too much. I'm leaving out many plot elements. And what I show is jumbled.  If you can figure out the plot from these pictures, you should be a screenwriter:

Here's the opening scene with the orchestra on stage, which you quickly get used to. The art is by Jean-Jacques Sempé, the famous French cartoonist, who has done many covers for The New Yorker. His drawings are all it takes to keep you in Cherbourg:

Sempé in the spotlight during the standing ovation following this première performance:

Michel Legrand, age 82, pops out from behind an umbrella and then mounts the podium to conduct:


Two famous opera singers (who are real-life wife and husband): Natalie Dessay as Madame Emery and Laurent Naouri as the mysterious but benign stranger, Roland Cassard:


Below, Marie Oppert as Geneviève, Madame Emery's daughter.  Oppert easily outshines Catherine Deveuve because Oppert can both act and sing. Everybody is miked, but you soon get used to it in this somewhat provisional mise-en-scène:

Vincent Niclo as Guy, our anti-heroic tenor. Niclo is considered mostly a pop singer:

Guy was raised by his godmother, "Aunt" Elise (Jasmine Roy). Can you read this in French? Well, next you see it with an English subtitle:


And here is Madeleine (Louise Leterme) who takes care of Aunt Elise, in another small French lesson:

Madame Emery has an unprofitable umbrella shop:

Aunt Elise loves her godson Guy more than anything else:

Frank Vincent as Aubin, a garage owner and Arnaud Léonard, a customer:


A dance scene at a club with various cast members portraying the crowd. The two French sailors are Valentin Johner and Salem Sobihi, who constantly run about working as stage hands and semi-characters:

Guy is ambitious:

Here Jasmine Roy, whom we know as Aunt Elise, doubles as a streetwalker:

A mother-daughter talk. Natalie Dessay considers herself an actress first and singer second:

What is happiness?

Geneviève in distress:

Elsa Dreisig as Jenny, whose real name is also Geneviève:

Roland has a sad story:

Madeleine is wary:

Here's why:

So what exactly is this serious jazz opera about? It's about the disasters love brings into our lives and the power that same love sometimes has to help us cope and heal. There are more tears here than laughs, and you don't have to be high-brow to love it. I'll say it's accessible: others would call this sentimental or "classy nostalgia."

I'm giving this an "A+" grade for originality, depth of content, broad appeal, and showmanship.  It's not Mozart, Verdi, or Puccini, but it's hard to image how it could be done better than in this HDVD. And I read somewhere that Théâtre du Châtelet only showed this 4 times! If that's true, then at the most about 10,000 people saw this. And now it's gone. Except, thanks to Erato, you can see it in your home theater.