A.K.A. Le Chapiteau de mars (The…uh…big red circus tent in March)
Nothing ever happens in this town in the wintertime. But here, the first sign of spring is not a flower or a budding tree or a warm breeze. It is instead a week-long music/theatre festival, planned at least six months in advance.
The first time I heard of this, it was from the teachers at my school, back in early October when I first started eating lunch with them. The direct translation (and only one I found) of “chapiteau” is “big top,” as in circus, and I was very confused as to why they were planning a choral concert for the kids in a circus tent. Or perhaps there was going to be a school-sponsored circus coming. But at the time, I wasn’t quite sure how to ask questions that would get me more explanatory responses, so I let it sit, figuring I would find out more when it got closer.
Then, last month, posters plastered themselves onto blank walls and lampposts overnight, more than I had ever seen advertising anything. Labeaume en Musiques presents L’argentiere’s Chapiteau de Mars 2010, from March 13-21. It opens with a concert with a blues/folk artist, then a theatrical adaptation of Sinbad the Sailor, then there’s choral performances the whole week from schools and other groups in the area, then the last weekend there is an opera. A farcical maritime opera, the last performance of which features some of my older kids as “petits mousses,” little cabinboys and -girls on the ship sailing towards the Caribbean. Okay, I’ll bite…but what the heck should I expect in terms of quality? How well known is this? Yes, the 2000-person town is buzzing about it, but I’ve been in New York City for four years. I know stellar theatre, amazing musical performances. How would this compare?
As it turned out, I could not have asked for a better festival to come to town. The first night was Piers Faccini (go look him up, if you don’t know him already), a blues/folk artist who is apparently fairly well known. I’m just pop-culturally challenged, even in the areas that I like…so I’d never heard of him. Listen to a few clips, and then let me tell you that he performs even better than he records. I felt like, for one night, I was back in New York. Really, for the second night, too, with Sinbad the Sailor — only it was in the French part of New York.
The opera, which I saw yesterday (YAY! something to do on a Sunday!), was hysterically funny. I had half of my kids tell me they knew I was there because they heard my laugh. (On a side note, that observation should be familiar to anyone I’ve ever told that I went to go see a taping of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.) To be honest, I’m not entirely sure I understood the whole thing, because theatre is always harder to understand than regular conversations, especially sung theatre with a bunch of maritime vocabulary that I do not know. But it was a family-oriented romp through the old French theatre traditions, with a narrator, one bumbling buffoon, a drunk yet heroic captain, musicians getting in on the act, and an alto man playing all the women. And the bows at the end — there’s a certain presence to all French curtain calls that I just love. It’s a tradition dating back beyond the beginnings of the Comédie Française in Paris, but they still do it the best. Precise and military, yet character-filled. These people once performed in the court of a king. You just know.
All this was in a big red circus tent, up on the hill next to the fire station right outside of town. Et voilà: le chapiteau de mars!