Last night I took a solid thirty-minute train ride to Saint-Sebastien-Froissart to the Cercle Bernard Lazare for a concert of French and Yiddish cabaret songs, sung by Betty Reicher.
I arrived early, naturally, and spent a few minutes walking back and forth in front of 10 rue Saint-Claude. There was a terrifying woman in a flowery dress smoking a cigarette outside the enormous front doors (many French houses and apartments have outside doors that require codes to get in, and then from the vestibule you can call up to the people you’re coming to see), and a surly youth sitting on the steps inside. I very nearly didn’t go in all the way–the whole set-up made me nervous–but then I heard some other passers-by looking for 10 rue Saint-Claude, and I just followed them in. I got inside and whaddaya know? 10 rue Saint-Claude is in fact a Jewish cultural center (rather leftist, I believe) with rooms for concerts, dance classes, choir rehearsals, and community meals. The very nice receptionist sold me my reserved ticket, and I went in. I was the youngest person in the audience who hadn’t been brought by a parent. Half an hour later, at least twenty minutes late, the concert started.
First of all, let me just say that I never quite realized what an enormous effort is required for me to understand a concert or a theatrical work entirely in French, and it probably says something about the state of my French that I found the Yiddish songs easier to understand! Actually, the truth is just that Germanic languages don’t move quite as quickly as romance languages, and German/Yiddish has a very similar cadence to English.
But I thoroughly enjoyed the concert (despite being already quite tired from a big day of singing and a lot of train travel). I found Betty Reicher’s stage persona to be very endearing, and her stories were wonderful. In between songs, she talked about going to synagogue on Rue des Rosiers (hey, that’s where L’as de Falafel is!) with her father and watching him put on his tefillin; she told a story about being in Fiddler on the Roof in Lyon, and an elderly woman who reminded her of the rabbi’s wife from her childhood synagogue telling her that the Russian soldiers should have been wearing caps (at least, that’s how I understood it–if Ms. Reicher googles herself and finds my blog she could probably correct me!). Actually, much as I liked the songs, I wished the show had been structured a little more like a one-woman show instead of a recital. The joke was that every time she told a story, her pianist would remind her that she had to sing a song, so she never got very far in the stories.
I had never heard any of the songs before, which made this a worthwhile experience (I almost went to see the dress rehearsal of Lulu at the Bastille with Hallie, but I decided to spring for something new instead). Apparently one of Ms. Reicher’s specialties is translating popular songs into Yiddish; at the end, she sang Jacques Brel’s “Ne me quitte pas” in Yiddish (“Loz mekh nisht alayn”). Her website says she’s sung “Fever” in Yiddish–now, THAT I’d like to hear.
But here’s one of her other songs in Yiddish. There are a couple of videos of her singing in French as well, but I thought the Yiddish parts were more interesting and more fun.