Seattle PI Music Review
by R.M. Campbell, Seattle Post-Intelligencer Music Critic
Fame is transitory.
Edith Piaf, among the most famous of the famous, is now largely forgotten. The bright, brassy holler of her voice trembling with passion and anguish of her songs are relics of another day.
Or so it would seem.
In her time, Edith Piaf was one of those monstres sacrés the French embrace so openly. Writing in the New Yorker, Janet Flanner described Piaf's last performance at the Olympia Theatre in Paris:
"Ravaged, ill, bundled in her customary modest black dress, her pallid little moon face set in its sad nocturnal smile, she tottered . . . across the stage to the microphone, to which she clung, and then her voice, that great remnant of her life, burst forth. . . . She was the unassailable artist. . . ."
Nothing so life-wrenching happened Saturday night at Benaroya Hall during Raquel Bitton's homage to Piaf. She, too, wore a modest black dress, with no jewelry, her pale face wrapped in a pixie haircut. Her hands large and expressive and her steps small but determined, the diminutive Bitton summoned the ghost of this legendary French artist.
Bitton is not Piaf, nor does she want to be, but in assuming the role of a singer, reviving her name and reputation, she has become a little like Piaf. Some of the gestures are there, but not too many. Bitton is theatrical but in a carefully calibrated way.
Her voice is not a pretty instrument; it can be raucous and harsh, with a wobble hidden within. There are no smooth phrases with which to spin lyricism but short, punchy ones to deliver a message. All that is in keeping with Piaf, who was never about pretty. She was about life -- the transport of joy and the rawness of grief. So, too, Bitton.
Raquel Bitton. "Edith Piaf -- Her Story, Her Songs." Saturday night at Benaroya Hall.
An expert of French popular song from this century, Bitton has a keen sense on how to put Piaf into an accessible context without overdoing the tumult of the singer's life. The 26 songs in the program were neatly divided into early years and later years, with the most celebrated tunes in the latter half of the show. And the near-capacity audience knew exactly what those famous tunes were; one could hear the rustle of recognition in the house.
It was wise for Bitton to chat up the audience with details of Piaf's biography and vignettes of her life. The stories neatly dovetailed with the songs, heard in glossy arrangements by Bob Holloway.
Bitton was backed by a 20-piece orchestra, led by Bill Keck, composed of Seattle musicians. Not everything went smoothly -- little rehearsal shy, perhaps -- but the job got done.
Congratulations, Mme. Bitton, on bringing the music and spirit of Edith Piaf to Seattle last night. A relatively new passion of mine, I have devoured the
music and media regarding Piaf, and was delighted to be one of the attendees of last evening's event. Your passion for the music, the way the phrases
flow, and the intense emotionalism were astounding - and, frankly, during a particularly magical moment in "Mon Dieu," one could almost imagine Piaf looking down from the ethers of this magnificent hall to smile a sly grin in honor of such beautiful music and magnificent interpretation. I feel fortunate to carry the memory of this concert, merci beaucoup!
Thank you for a wonderful performance!
My husband and I attended your show at Benaroya Hall (Seattle) last night. The show was magnificent! We felt you brought Edith Piaf to life, right before our eyes.
Thank you, Elinor Appel & Michael Rockhold
Dear Ms. Bitton:
Your performance tonight in Seattle was an experience of a lifetime. I remember when I first discovered Piaf in the mid 1980s, thinking, darn, why couldn't I have been born earlier? You've captured (and improved upon) the essence so well that I no longer feel cheated. Thank you for a fantastic evening, and best wishes. Regards Greg Metzger