The Famous Spiegel Garden,
Senate Rose Garden, Canberra
13th March 2013
Reviewed by Bill Stephens.
Amid the faded rococo splendour of the antique Famous Spiegel Garden, in which it is reputed that Marlene Dietrich has also performed, a packed house of rapt Canberrans were treated to an exquisite performance of the art of cabaret, when French chanteuse, Caroline Nin gave the only Canberra performance of her show “Hymne a Edith Piaf”.
Caroline Nin is the real deal. She spends most of her professional life singing at the Paris Lido, but finds time to tour Australia annually with her stylish cabaret shows, among which “Hymne an Edith Piaf” is her signature show and her most acclaimed. It was nominated for a Helpmann Award for the best cabaret show of 2012.
As the name suggests, this show is not an autobiographical telling of Piaf’s life. Nor does Nin imitate Piaf’s guttural singing style. However, during the course of the show we do learn quite a lot about Piaf, and the songs evoke the sound and passion of Piaf's voice as a result of the way they are written.
Besides being a superb vocalist, Caroline Nin is also an arresting story-teller, with a sure sense of the use of movement and stillness. Each of the songs, often given brilliant jazz-inflected accompaniments by John Thorn on piano and Jonathan Zwartz on double bass, was preceded by a mesmerising set-up.
Sometimes Nin, tall, elegant, clad in a tight black dress slit to the thigh, simply quoted the English lyric in her warm heavily accented voice prior to singing the song in French. For “L’acccordeoniste” she became “a girl of joy” – a sex-worker - who dreamed of having her own brothel complete with an accordionist. For “If You Love Me” she told of how Piaf first sang that song at a concert on the same night that she received word that her lover had been killed in a plane crash.
Her introductions on each occasion were engrossing, often cheeky and playful, always enlightening, creating the perfect ambiance for the song which followed, whether it be passionate or tender, regretful or defiant.
Some in the audience may not have understood the language, in which the song was sung, but they certainly understood the meaning of every word and all were conscious that they were participating in a rare, sublime cabaret performance.