We are here to encourage the development of gifted young singers and to stimulate the growth of New York City's invaluable chamber opera companies. But we will not neglect the Metropolitan Opera either. Get ready for bouquets and brickbats.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015


Myriam Phiro
Trixie La Fée (Francesca Caviglia)

Oh, celebrities!  We love them, we hate them, we put them on pedestals and we tear them down.  But Myriam Phiro recreated one Monday night at The Metropolitan Room and told us exactly what she wanted us to believe about Edith Piaf, the "little sparrow" who won French hearts in the 20th c. and went on to captivate the world.

If you were looking for truth, we recommend that you look elsewhere. But if you were looking for legend and fine musical values you had plenty to enjoy as Ms. Phiro, who conceived the show, told and sang her version--with assistance from musical director Benjamin Ickies playing piano and accordion, Lars Ekman playing upright bass, Luis Ebert on drums, performer Leonid the Magnificent in various roles, and Francesca Caviglia portraying Marlena Dietrich and performing her famous fan dance.  WOW!

It makes a great story that Piaf was born on the streets of Belleville but her birth certificate reveals a hospital birth.  Yes, it is probably true that her mother abandoned her at birth and that she was raised in her paternal grandmother's brothel.  It is also true that her own illegitimate child died of neglect.

Much of the rest of her life story is shrouded in mystery and exaggeration. Such "embroidery" is common in the lives of the famous. Ms. Phiro described Piaf's early years as a street performer with her father and her discovery by a nightclub impresario Louis Leplée--but did not mention the fact that this man died mysteriously a year later and Piaf was named as an accessory.

No mention was made of her activity in World War II, during which she seems to have entertained both the French and the Germans. Scandal is no stranger to celebrities. But the world loved her music and forgave all. Alcoholism and drug addiction are also common among celebrities and this too has been overlooked and forgiven. She died of liver cancer in 1967.

Let us forget all this and focus on the music. We would be surprised if anyone in Monday's audience ever heard her sing live, although she made a couple appearances at Carnegie Hall in the mid-20th c.  But many have heard her recordings and most people are at least somewhat familiar with her songs, the lyrics of which she wrote herself.

Ms. Phiro generously plied us with one gorgeous song after another and impressed us with her expressivity and vocal beauty.  Our personal favorites, unsurprisingly, were "La Vie en Rose", "Padam Padam" (a favorite of cabaret artist Kim Smith), and "Non, je ne regrette rien". It helps that Ms. Phiro is petite, although not as petite as the 4'8" Piaf!

The evening was an effective portrayal of one woman's conception of an artist's life--lived fully, if not wisely. One thought we had during the show was that Ms. Phiro might consider delivering the narrative material in the first person instead of the third.

Francesca Caviglia made a dual appearance, at first as the disdainful Marlena Dietrich, and later in her extraordinary fan dance which we have seen before and would be happy to see again!  The last time we saw her, she was stripping and singing opera at the same time. Trixie is just full of tricks!

(c) meche kroop

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