Menu: Plaisirs with Jean-Paul Fouchécourt
French Institute Alliance Française and Opera Lafayette
Where: FIAF Florence Gould Hall, New York
When November 16, 2016
The phrase “from the sublime to the ridiculous” is one of those idiomatic expressions that you associate with happenstances of all kinds, so to use that choice of words to describe a performance of high art French chanson, cabaret of Yvette Guilbert, and eighteenth-century Comédie lyrique may seem odd. But not when you consider that the performance Menu-Plaisirs co-created by its tenor soloist Jean-Paul Fouchécourt, director Jean Lacornerie, and magician Thierry Collet was conceived not simply as a recital, but rather – as their program notes instruct us – as “a recital as well as a show.” For accurate measure, I must throw in bizarre to describe this music hall experience – so from the sublime to the bizarre to the ridiculous. But this voyage is exactly the case for the Opera Lafayette US production Menu: Plaisirs with Jean-Paul Fouchécourt, a recital-show, which received its world premiere at Théâtre de la Croix-Rousse in Lyon. The two-night New York season co-presented by the French Institute Alliance Française (FI: AF) at the modest Florence Gould Hall, is a vehicle for the multiple talents of Fouchécourt. His skills also include one part magician and one part saxophonist.
So, let us begin with the sublime. Sublime because Fouchécourt is a master of the French chanson. Throughout the evening Fouchécourt dishes a number of quiet vignettes of rapture. He spins seamless legato in well-known chansons such as Martini’s Plaisir d’amour. It is in these stand-alone moments where the jewels of the evening shine. Bizarre – because the evening, by once again it’s own artistic vision seeks to embrace magic, the Belle Époque and a flirtation with Rameau accompanied by Lafaytte’s period instrument ensemble. Throughout the vaudeville-“esque” entertainment, Fouchécourt performs magic tricks midstream in songs. Ridiculous, because this recital/show visions that the songs are delivered by Fouchécourt in the role of “lecturer/illusionist” and “sexologist/musicologist.” So, as you can image, the absurd hovers very close to all the edges of this sixty-minute degustation menu with Fouchécourt. With all these double layered, multiple complexities, Menu: Plaisirs is a bold experiment dressed in retro suit.
The creator’s search for novelty and experiment extends to the use of surtitles. Surtitles are the curse of designers and aesthetes. However, since their pesky presence in our opera theaters and concert hall remains the unresolved issue of our day any imaginative response to their application is welcome. Sadly on the performance I attended the surtitles were touched by the mysteries of Houdini. Despite their disappearing act, the animated surtitles in the second half provided some delightful picturesque projections, creating a storybook experience with a magic of their own.