A night in Paris at Ravinia :: Web Exclusives :: PIONEER PRESS

May 11, 2010

A Night in Paris at Ravinia

Contributor, Pioneer Press Web-Exclusives

For a few hours the evening of Friday May 7, we were in Paris, transported by a marvelous cabaret show at the Ravinia Festival starring Claudia Hommel. The lovely chanteuse sang nearly all of her two dozen songs in French, with the exception of a few that had been written by Cole Porter or had crossed the Atlantic to become popular songs in English.

Among those were “My Man” and “Autumn Leaves” with English words by Johnny Mercer and they were sung in both French and English. Hommel is a cabaret artist, which means she is a song stylist and interpreter. An excellent actress, she can set a mood with a turn of her head or the look in her eyes. She spoke about each song, giving us the context in which it was written, and tidbits about the women who sang them.

Did you know that Erik Satie wrote a song for the Parisian singers Paulette Darty? Or that Francis Poulenc wrote a song with words by playwright Jean Anouilh for singer Yvonne Printemps? Neither did I, until Friday night.

Her program was divided into two parts, pre- and post World War II. Josephine Baker was the most familiar in the first set and Edith Piaf in the second.

In Piaf songs “Milord,” “Padam padam,” the finale “Non, je ne regrette rien” and the encore “La Vie En Rose,” Hommel made no attempt to imitate the “Little Sparrow,” but simply gave the pieces straight-up respectful renderings. She began “Autumn Leaves” unaccompanied, filling the room briefly with just her own clear voice. Only in the second verse was she joined by Bob Moreen at the piano and Don Stille on the accordion. Her colleagues are excellent musicians, Stille playing virtuoso riffs and Moreen also joining her on vocals now and again.

Hommel is a very pretty woman, her flawless skin topped with curly black hair and she made ample use of hats and at one point a bright red feather boa. She wore a mauve satin gown with a stole for the first half, then returned after intermission in a sleek deep purple skirt with form-fitting bodice.

Since so many French songs are about lost love, the program had plenty of drama. By the end of “My Man,” Hommel had collapsed in mock grief across the top of the grand piano!

The show marked the finale of the 2010 Rising Stars series at Ravinia, and it was held on the second floor dining room of the restaurant building. There was regular seating, but the front part of the room was also punctuated with cabaret tables, and a faint aroma of wine filled the air. The back of the stage area was marked off by a long red curtain.

Hommel told the audience that she was the first Chicago cabaret singer to be invited to Ravinia, hinting that the festival just might bring other local chanteuses to the festival. It would be a great idea. There were lots of new faces in the audience, so obviously she has a good fan base. For more about this remarkable Paris-born singer, visit her Web site, www.cabaret-paree.com.