Saturday, November 9, 2013

Shameless Saturday Camp Explosion: A Piece of Happiness...

It's simply that the process of aging or deterioration provides 
the necessary detachment - or arouses a necessary sympathy. 
- Susan Sontag, "Notes on Camp"

Oh, I'm very late to this party, I know, but it's one I'm happy to be at.  Only this week have I for the first time encountered today's Great Lady, Brazil's remarkable Bibi Ferreira.  Next week she'll be bringing her act to Town Hall in New York, doing something I've long thought an almost unmeetable challenge: singing songs associated with Piaf.  Some things, once they're done, are hard to justify trying to do again, and it's mostly my belief that once La Môme had sung a song, it was sung.  Oh, sure, Grace Jones got away with her deconstructed, supercharged "La Vie en Rose," a song also identified with Dietrich and others, and there are a few ladies who can manage a number or two (Karen Akers springs to mind), but after that it's a lot of singers scaling an alp that's frankly beyond them.

Not so La Ferreira.  She sings in the style of Piaf, but never in a way the surrenders her own persona; she inhabits the songs.  She's been doing variations on her Piaf show for 30 years, and by all accounts it only gets better, and truer, and more simultaneously heartwarming and heartbreaking.

She is 91 years old.

If she is Camp, or her work is, it is of the warmest, most genuinely appreciative kind ("Camp is a tender feeling.").  The Camp comes from the milieu, the artifice, the courage and gallantry and nerve of a woman in a gown cut down to there and bravado warpaint going out to conquer an audience on the arm of an elegant gentleman (that rare phenom: the singing Safety Gay) and doing so absolutely.  She is a very great artist.

Sadly, I won't be at Town Hall on November 13, but in my heart of hearts I hope that someone who can tell us all about her will be.  TJB, do you have your tickets yet?


  1. She's a corker. But I must confess, I've never been a Piaf fan. As with Streisand, I see/hear the talent, but the attraction mostly eludes me.

    Way back a hairline ago, perhaps 1995, I was enjoying a late-season, long weekend escape to Provincetown with some pals. We were passing a convivial afternoon in the cramped, dark, but always friendly Atlantic House bar when La Vie en Rose began to play. The entire bar, mostly of the bear persuasion, joined in song, loudly and with gusto...everyone...except for me. I had never heard the song before. I asked my friends how everyone knew this song. They were aghast that I swished and swayed through 30+ years of gay life and not heard the song. I was gently mocked the rest of the weekend.

    1. That is kind of remarkable. I would have thought that given the versions by Dietrich, Baker, Midler, and more, it would be almost impossible not to know at least that song.

      As for the oeuvre of Mlle. Piaf more generally, I'm afraid, much as it pains me, that it will have to be an area in which we agree to disgree, as she for me she ranks with the greatest of the greats.

      Speaking of which - watch this space. I've got an extra treat lined up...

  2. Ferreira played Eliza Doolittle in the Brazilian production "Minha Querida Lady," for which there is a Portugese language cast album. (The Mexican "Mi Bella Dama" cast album has Placido Domingo in the chorus.)

    The producers also had the huevos to alter the famous Hirshfeld cartoon used as the logo for the show, painting out Harrison and Andrews and inserting their own stars. She must have been a huge star at the time for them bother.

  3. What a remarkable woman! I just adore finding new divas...

    Did she ever play Norma Desmond, I wonder? She should have. Jx