Last Friday, those unable to get away for the holiday season were arguably better off than those who were, with world renowned singer Charles Aznevour bringing the best of France to a sophisticated, well-heeled audience at the Opera House.
The legendary French-Armenian singer, songwriter, actor, and activist offered his audience more than expected. The music alone would have been enough to evoke nostalgic reminiscing from a largely Francophone crowd of over-50s. Since French chanteuse Edith Piaf introduced him in the 50s, Aznevour has grown to be one of the most enduring singers globally, appreciated for his touching love stories set to music and the characters he creates through them. For this, he was selected as CNN’s Entertainer of the Century.
Beyond simply crooning in his distinctive tenor though, Aznavour was a first-rate performer. He entertained the audience with stories, dances, and jokes – mostly about his “old age.
He claims, for example, that an obituary has already been written for him. Though he had the audience chortling, the only evidence of his age – 83 – was in the midst of one song where he stopped the band because he had forgotten the lyrics. Most of these songs, after all, were written over 40 years ago.
When the audience thought the evening was over, Aznevour kept returning and sang over 25 of his most cherished songs. Highlights included classics “La Boheme and “She, a poetic number one hit that was famously covered by Elvis Costello. Aznevour also performed hits “Il Faut Savoir (You Should Know), “Ave Maria, “La Mamma, “Que C’est Triste Venise (How Sad Venice Can Be) and “Mes Emmerdes (My Problems).
The set and lighting itself were simple and tasteful, alternatively playful and dramatic.
Charity organization Kheir wa Baraka (Peace and Plenty) hosted the event along with multiple sponsors, including Orange, Semiramis Intercontinental, and Orascom Telecom at the Cairo Opera House and the Alexandria Opera House. All proceeds from the event – with tickets costing LE 750 and LE 1,000 – went to Kheir wa Baraka.
Kheir’s Nevine Iskandar says the organization wanted to invite someone of great stature for the official launch to “create a buzz so that people would inquire more into the charity organization. “Everybody came out saying it brought them back to nights with performers who were real performers without gimmicks and tricks. . It was a mystical evening.
Aznevour has long been close to Egypt, sharing a special relationship with Egyptian Armenians as well as Egyptian icons Om Kulthoum, Abdel Wahab, Abdel Halim Hafez, Farid El Atrache, and Dalida.
On a night like this, one had to appreciate whatever it was that Aznevour fell in love with and which brought him back to Egypt.