semi-staged concert

Vote for me!

La Clique des Lunaisiens

Operetta arias and political chansons on the theme of elections and the art of government

13 June 2017 – 8:30 p.m.
Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord
Tickets 10 to 25 € Book

First performed on 23 February 2017 in Venice (Scuola Grande San Giovanni Evangelista)
Tour: Arsenal de Metz (25 March), MC2: Grenoble (12 and 13 April),
Théâtre du Château d’Eu (5 May), Cité de la Voix – Vézelay (6 May)
Production Palazzetto Bru Zane
In collaboration with C.I.C.T. – Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord

The concert will be recorded by France Musique

Louis XIV and Napoleon understood very well just how effective music – and especially the popular genres of chanson, opéra-comique and operetta – could be as weapons of political propaganda. It comes as no surprise that the nineteenth century, which saw so many conflicting regimes succeeding each other, should offer an almost infinite repertory of satirical or demagogic pieces on the theme of elections and sovereignty. This recital, Vote for me!, alternating between famous composers and now-unknown chansonniers, invites the listener to witness the exercise of rhetoric, popular complaint and deceitful manipulation. Any resemblance to persons living or dead will, of course, be purely coincidental.

Lara Neumann soprano: France
Ingrid Perruche soprano: The feminist Candidate
Arnaud Marzorati artistic director, baritone and ‘siffleur’: The Politician prestidigitator
Mélanie Flahaut flute, flageolet and bassoon
Pierre Cussac accordion
Daniel Isoir piano
Flannan Obé artistic collaboration and stage reading

The political song in the nineteenth century

by Alexandre Dratwicki

The origins of the political song are closely intertwined with those of politics themselves. Its expansion in the nineteenth century was made possible by the diffusion of inexpensive editions and arrangements of all sorts. The multiplication of venues for concerts – or rather for popular oratory (notably the caf ’conc’ of Montmartre) – facilitated the development of a genre with two faces: the political chanson oscillated between propaganda (Boissière: Un Vrai Républicain [A true Republican]; Bruant: Plus d’patrons [No more bosses]) and protest (Hyspa: Les Complots [The conspiracies]; Pourny: L’Impôt sur les célibataires [The tax on bachelors]), devotion (Vignix: La Prière de Jeanne d’Arc [Joan of Arc’s prayer]) and calumny (Xanrof: La Chambre et le Sénat [The Chamber of Deputies and the Senate]; Jouy: Un Bal chez le Ministre [A ball at the minister’s residence]). Accompanied on the piano or by larger instrumental forces (often improvised, and sometimes very original), the chansonnier expounded on topics drawn from current events in easily memorised melodies and irresistibly catchy refrains. The structure of the chanson was governed by strophic form: the text, sometimes extremely long, was divided into three, four, even as many as ten verses (couplets), very often with a punch-line that systematically brought the listener back to the song’s main topic. Of course, bawdy double entendres were much in favour with the lyric writers, and some serious or tender songs in fact incorporate an elaborate second degree of meaning (Nadaud: Droite, gauche, centre [Right, left and centre]; Hyspa: Le Toast du Président [The President’s toast]). Indeed, the virtuosity of this repertory lies in its literary component rather than in the uncomplicated melodic line and accompaniment (Xanrof: Le Métingue des femmes [The women’s meeting]). Nevertheless, composers of ‘art song’ did not hesitate to set texts by Béranger, for example, as witness Lalo’s Le Vieux Vagabond (The old tramp) with its strikingly socialistic sentiments.

The success of the political chanson soon outgrew the intimate surroundings of meetings in cafes. Composers began to introduce it into large-scale works: whereas the traditional opéra-comique preferred the innocuous salon romance (‘Connais-tu le pays’ from Ambroise Thomas’s Mignon or the ‘Berceuse’ from Godard’s Jocelyn), the operetta and the opéra-bouffe chose the chanson, as with Clairette’s number in Lecocq’s La Fille de Madame Angot (specifically entitled ‘Chanson politique’) or the ‘Couplets du diplomate’ in Offenbach’s Le Roi Carotte. This type of piece, initially applauded on the stage, swiftly entered the café-concert repertory in suitably adapted versions and was heard in instrumental arrangements both in the bandstands of public parks and on the barrel organ in the middle of the boulevard.

We tend to think more readily of the caustic and campaigning side of the political chanson, but it would be wrong to overlook the sentimentalising repertory dealing with the themes of poverty, abandonment and solitude. Society’s rejects could recognise their plight in sometimes tear-jerking romances like Boileau’s Quand on n’a pas le sou (When you haven’t a penny). Such unfortunates found consolation in the strains of edifying chansons with strong religious connotations or in those featuring courageous and resolute national figures. Joan of Arc was the most celebrated of these, and became a particular inspiration after France’s defeat in the war of 1870. Her origins in eastern France then came to resonate with the loss of Alsace-Lorraine and the redrawing of the frontier with the Prussian Empire. Joan even became the subject of the cantata for the prix de Rome competition of 1871, which was won by Serpette, a future master of operetta…

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