Michel LEGRAND (b. 1932) and Jacques DEMY (1931-1990)
Les Parapluies de Cherbourg (1964)
(symphonic version, world premiere)
Geneviève Emery - Marie Oppert
Guy Foucher - Vincent Niclo
Madam Emery - Natalie Dessay
Roland Cassard - Laurent Naouri
Madeleine - Louise Leterme
Denis Leloup (trombone); François Laizeau (batterie); Claude Egea (trompette); Pierre Boussaget (contrebasse rythmique); Pierre Perchaud (guitar)
Orchestre National d’Ile-de-France/Michel Legrand
rec. Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris, 11-14 September 2014
Video: NTSC System 16.9 Disc Format: 1 DVD 9
Sound: Stereo PCM 2.0/Dolby Digital 5.1
ERATO DVD 2564 611764 [100:00]

The original 1964 film of Les Parapluies de Cherbourg was one of the most successful films in France drawing some 1.25 million admissions. It starred Catherine Deneuve as Geneviève and Nino Castelnuovo as Guy. Almost operatic, the dialogue was all sung as recitative. Michel Legrand’s music was regarded very highly especially that haunting song ’Je ne pourrai jamais vivre sans toi’ sung as the two young lovers are parted when Guy is drafted to serve as a soldier in the Algerian War.

Now Les Parapluies has been recreated as a symphonic presentation with the same-sized orchestra as used in the film. It is placed on-stage with the actors/dancers performing in front of it. The sets are merely rough card cut-outs with simplistic monochrome drawings on them. All of these plus smaller date-of-action cards are carried on and off-stage by the actors themselves.

The opening scene with colourful umbrellas opened and twirling with the boys and girls in raincoats and sailors jauntily dancing sets the scene. We learn that Geneviève is desperately in love with Guy. Both are still virtually in their teens and her mother Madam Emery (Natalie Dessay) is concerned especially since her umbrella-selling business is none too secure. The great Dessay is a commanding presence throughout especially in the poignant scene when she learns that the rich shy Roland Cassard that she fancies, prefers her daughter. In this version the actor playing Cassard is suitably much older than Geneviève but it is he who marries the pregnant Geneviève after she panics because she feels abandoned by Guy when she hears so little from him in North Africa. Guy returns to learn what has happened and goes into a decline losing his job and his self-respect but is saved by Madeleine who had cared for his ailing aunt and now wants to save him from himself. They marry and have a son. Inevitably Geneviève returns to Cherbourg and bumps into Guy but he spurns her advances and he and Madeleine exit happily leaving a saddened Geneviève.

All this is convincingly told through dance and recitative song. This is a moving retro tribute to a ground-breaking major French film. It could not have been an easy viewing when it first appeared yet drew huge audiences.
Ian Lace

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