(photo credit: SIVAN FARAG)
It’s been said that if a man were permitted to make the ballads of a nation he need not care who should make its laws. In that sense, legendary 93-year-old French singer Charles Aznaour is a natural lawgiver, a molder of international moods and aspirations.
The silver sage from Sevan won over the masses writing his own laws of musical seduction – and seduced we were, Saturday night at his third appearance at the Menorah Mivtachim Arena in Tel Aviv.
Aznavour’s large, hypnotic jet-black eyes seemed to bore into souls as he gazed at the 20,000 fans. His authentic lyrics seemed to relate to me and my life personally – and everyone else in the jam-packed stadium appeared similarly awestruck and at his command. Great is too small a word for the evening.
Teary-eyed Israelis, Russians, North and South Americans, Brits and his fellow Frenchmen immigrants aged 40 to over 100 were united as fellow countrymen when Aznavour rocked the house with, appropriately, “The Immigrants” [Les Emigrants].
On a dimly lit stage with only a few purple and red spotlights and a blue screen displaying geometrical graphics, Aznavour stood encircled by a six-member band and two female singers, one of whom is his daughter Katia. All were dressed identically in black suits, with the exception of Aznavour’s red suspenders.
The lighting effects and costumes may have been subdued, but Aznavour brilliantly illuminated the stage with his presence and voice – singing in French, Italian, Spanish and Russian.
“You know my voice hasn’t changed since last time. What I do is offer you the most beautiful text in the most beautiful language. Next time I’m going to sing in Hebrew.” Whatever language, his appeal draws from realism and delivers a romantic reward.
For an hour and a half, our hearts were torn in two as our senses were flooded by folk songs of the southland, sad ballads of the lone wayward sailor and dancing rhythms from tin pan alley, indulging in unabashed romance and mourning the past.
Kindling mixed feelings and bittersweet sadness, he shifted from “Because You Believe” [Parce que tu crois]; “Because” [Parce Que]; the well-known “Dying of Love” [Mourie d’aimer] to the fast tempo “I Expect” [T’espero], pausing between songs with humility, divulging secrets of the trade, generating occasional appreciative chuckles and sharing rare insights from a master craftsman.
Bending down to get a better look at the teleprompter, Aznavour remarked, “Singing out of key is okay, but it’s the lyrics that count.” His songs – whether about life, love or politics – are believable; his voice has more to do with the message than with being a crooner.
Eric Berchot’s solo piano lead in “Her Youth” [Sa Jeunesse] danced alongside Aznavour’s tenor voice, and suddenly, Aznaour’s words raced, riveting the set with “My Friend, My Judas” [Mon Ami Mon Judas], leaping over every hurdle magnificently to “I Travel” [Je Voyage], which he sang lovingly with Katia.
Charles Aznavour made love to each and every one of us with his sentimental persuasion of lyrical verse with the one and only English serenade, “She,” and followed with the visionary classics “The Demodes Pleasure” [Les Plaisirs Demodes], “Only Yesterday” [Hier Encore] and “As They Say” [Comme Ils Dissent].
“Two Guitars” [Les Deux Guitares], sung in Russian, unleashed a thunderous, timeless uproar of nostalgia and applause, leaving everyone wanting more, just as a good lover should.
Closing with an honest expression of sentimental evocation, “La Boheme” and “Take Me” [Emmenez-moi], the word of the night was authenticity.
A virtual lawmaker of provoking love ballads and folksongs, Aznavour rules the world, making the laws of life worth exploring and breaking.
Thank you, Charles, for sharing your life with us. The world thanks you. I thank you.