Richard and I went to this cabaret brunch performance at the Highline Ballroom on 8/2/15. It was a tribute to Edith Piaf, and you know how crazy we are for Piaf. The performers were a French-Israeli singer named Yael Dray-Barel and an Argentinian guitarist named Gabriel Hermida, also some bass player they probably met that afternoon - - he played well but every once in a while didn't quite seem to know what he was doing.
Neither of us had been to the Highline Ballroom before, and it's a nice room - - biggish, nice seating, pretty good food, and not outrageously expensive. We got there early, before a lot of the audience, so there was no trouble with our food. But the poor guy who was running out the orders he just couldn't get it right. It seemed like every time he came out with a food order, he delivered it to the wrong table. Maybe they found him at the same place they found the bass player.
We enjoyed the show very much. The singer gave us little biographical bon bons about Piaf in between songs, which were illuminating. I was crazy for the guitarist, he was a real artist - - strong playing, inventive solos, delicious chords. Richard wasn't wild for him, he thought it was overkill to have a guitar solo in nearly every song. I loved it, because I thought he was fantastic.
Barbara Cook did an interview with Renee Fleming in *Opera News* years ago, and the two of them talked about how they're ballad singers, they really can't swing. This woman had the reverse problem: she was great in the up tempo songs (she did a delightful up tempo version of "La vie en rose"), but didn't sound so good in the slow songs. Her voice wasn't even, and sometimes she got a little pitchy (to use a term I hear they use on *American Idol*). One other problem I had with her, and I'll admit right off that this is picking nits: she was wearing a floor-length black and silver gown, black opera gloves, and a rhinestone bracelet. A very elegant look, but not at all appropriate for a 12:30 PM performance.
I was happy enough with her, and then she surprised me with a song that really worked: "La mer", that delicious old Charles Trenet chestnut (which had just been used in *Ubu Roi* the previous weekend). She seemed really at ease singing that song, the arrangement was tight and charming, and the three of them seemed to be working well together in a way that hadn't happened so far. They followed it up with "La foule" (which she sang in French and in the original Spanish) and "Mon dieu", both of which were nearly as good as "La mer", better than anything at the beginning of the show. Here's my theory on what happened: this was about two-thirds of the way through the show, and I think it took that long for her to loosen up, and for the three of them to find their groove.
The interaction between the singer and the guitarist was a little peculiar. She was very cute, maybe just a bit too taken with her own cuteness, but not so bad that it was a big problem. He, on the other hand, was a real grump. Didn't say a word except to her (off mic) and often had a serious case of Grumpy Face. She said in one of her spoken interludes that Gabriel thinks she talks too much, that she should just sing the song - - and then in her next interlude he started the intro while she was still talking and then played louder and louder, trying to give her the message that she should stop talking. That was a little unnerving, as an audience member. She mentioned near the end of the show that he's her husband, and suddenly everything made sense.