Je ne sais quoi (3 stars)

This article is from 2013

Je ne sais quoi

Chantal Depagne

A music show by Nathalie Joly

In homing in on French cabaret singer Yvette Guilbert and her relationship with Sigmund Freud, Nathalie Joly has hit on a combination that is both informative and entertaining. Remarkably, the friendship between the pair was a lifelong one of fifty years. Episode 1 of Joly’s show goes back to their first meeting in 1890, when Freud heard Guilbert sing at the Moulin Rouge in Paris’s Montmartre and was enchanted by her performance. How similar to this Joly’s re-creation may be is difficult to know, but her petite prettiness certainly has a charm, even though the voice is not quite equipped to deal with the vocal demands of some of the repertoire.

The songs themselves are interspersed with extracts from unpublished correspondence between Freud and Guilbert. Part of what drew Freud to her was the humanity of the songs and the wide range of their subject matter, often, naturally, about love and lovers good and bad. Much better in the sort of sprechstimme that gives this music its character than in conventional singing, Joly presents some great numbers, all skilfully accompanied by pianist Jean-Pierre Gesbert. Episode 2 is about Guilbert’s time in New York, where she opens a singing and elocution school for deprived girls.

French Institute, 225 5366, until 26 Aug (not 19), Even days, Episode1/Odd days, Episode 2, 6.15pm, £10 (£8).

Je ne sais quoi

  • 3 stars

Nathalie Joly. 1890: Undisputed queen of the Parisian café concert, Yvette Guilbert mesmerizes Sigmund Freud, becomes his friend and starts a correspondence with him (Episode 1). 1900: She departs to New York where she invents and explores the rythme fondu repertoire, precursor of poetry slam (Episode 2). Accompanied by…