The Merry Widow or "Die Fledermaus is your
definition of operetta, then chances are, like most of us, you've
never heard the songs on this CD before. So, as you scroll down
this page and begin hearing the first bars of the opening song,
be prepared to be seduced as we were by Susan Graham's charming
way of singing these "French Operetta Arias" about the
foibles, the fallibilities, and the bitter-sweet perils of love.
The songs, lest we forget, remind us of operetta's French pedigree.
All 17 of them (8 by André Messager, 3 by Reynaldo Hahn and
the rest by Moïses Simons, Maurice Yvain and Arthur Honegger)
were written in the first 33 years of the 20th century by purveyors
of French operetta - now relatively obscure composers musically
descended from Jacques Offenbach, father of the art form, who popularized
operetta in 19th century Paris. It's fascinating how the all-male
librettists/song-writers could project thoroughly feminine and sometimes
outright feminist points of view - showing woman as flirt, lover,
mistress, wife, daughter, sister caught in various stages of the
And Susan Graham captures the spirit of each character - her high,
creamy mezzo-soprano delectably cloaked in impeccable French and
spun out with perfect phrasing. Her natural affinity for French
vocal music is quite in evidence yet again, as it was in her earlier
recordings of Berlioz' Les nuits
d'été and Reynaldo Hahn's La
With its rumba-like beat and the allure of Susan Graham's singing
(one can imagine, with a naughty wink of an eye), the opening number,
Simon's C'est ça la vie... is more than a
teaser, it sets the tone for the rest of the disc:
"The scrapes one gets into!
One falls in love one evening. The next day it's goodbye. That's
life. That's love! Carnen the Gypsy loved handsome Escamillo. She
swore to love the bull-fighter forever. But all men are the same:
He tired of her kisses, he deceived her. She reproached him, he
And who will not agree that these lines from Messager's J'ai
deux Amants and his "Les hommes sont biens tous
les mêmes" as sung by Graham a la provocateur
can only be music to the modern feminist's ear:
"I've two lovers, it's so much
better. For I make each one believe the other is the serious one.
My God! How stupid men are!.. I don't know what women are, but men!
By God they're stupid! And then... just think... two!...."
"The best of them is not worth the trouble of loving... Rakes,
betrayers, smooth talkers, liars, men are all the same!"
But there are many more facets to this CD than these amusingly sung
anti-male invectives. Such as:
Yvain's "Yes" - in which Susan Graham delightfully
takes on the role of an ingenue who constantly utters this deceptively
simple 3-letter word and gradually learns that "YES!"
is THE consummate word in the art of seduction:
"This little foreign yes is
so sweet, so light that it appears devoid of danger. You must not
trust it, for one is stupefied to see all it can mean. It's a very
little world through which one says one acquiesces. Yes, it's such
a sweet word that it leads you into the sweetest of situations,
or the many moments of dreamy, tender longing, as in Hahn's
"O mon bel inconnu" in which Graham sweetly sings
the trio of wife, daughter, maid - all yearning for the same handsome
"O my handsome unknown one,
you only have to appear, and though my eyes have not seen you, my
heart on seeing you will recognize you."
and the haunting songs of regret (e.g., "Je ne vois rien...
Lorsque je n'etais qu'une enfant") and nostalgia (e.g.,
"Je regrette mon Pressigny")....
But enough already! Listening is believing... so click the PLAY
buttons below and let Susan Graham provoke you, make you laugh,
and tug at your heartstrings.. Thanks to America's star mezzo-soprano,
more than ably supported by Yves Abel (French) conducting the City
of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (British), these delightful, nearly-forgotten
French songs will now certainly have a currency outside France.
Even if you're not a Francophile, or a fan of opera/operetta, chances
are you'd wish you had the CD to listen to again and again. And
after you'd have done so, the next time you hear someone sigh C'est
ça la vie, you won't be thinking "Oh, it's just
a trite French expression" anymore. You'd surely be humming,
if not singing, the tune which Susan Graham would have indelibly
etched in your memory. Indeed this is a gem of a CD, and music for
on the CD:
Arthur Honegger: "Si
vous saviez" from
Les Aventures du roi Pausole
ne vois rien... Lorsque je n'etais qu'une enfant" from
Fortunio; "Les hommes sont bien tous les mèmes"
Coupe de roulis
"Air de la lettre" from
est un oiseau rebelle" from
je m'en veux" from
Les P'tites Michu
"Être adoré " from
regrette mon Pressigny" from
La Petite Functionnaire;
amour, quel est donc ton pouvoir" from
Les Dragons de L'Impératrice; "Mon
"C'eest très vilain d'être infidele" from
O mon bel inconnu