Francophiles know her well as a chanteuse of stage and screen. And according to her biography, Kaas “is considered the most popular female artist in Russia”. Live Nation Entertainment brought Kaas to Carnegie Hall this week to present her tribute to Edith Piaf, “KAAS CHANTE PIAF”. Yes, it’s in all caps and replicates the over-the-top performance that Kaas delivered.
Interwoven with video footage, modern dance, couture costumes and the fiercest high heels in Carnegie Hall/drag queen history, Kaas chewed her way through the Piaf cannon, including classics like “Hymn to Love” as well as lesser-known recordings like “La Belle Histoire d’amour”.
The evening wore on with dramatic poses and clenched fists. At one point she donned boxing gloves and in the next moment pummeled the air with clenched fists as if to say, “Yes, Carnegie Hall, I HAVE ARRIVED.” A dramatic full moon finale with Kaas decked out in a shag overcoat reminded me of Old Deuteronomy from Catsbut apparently budget didn’t allow for the tire.
While the evening proved entertaining by the sheer dramaticism of it all, Kaas fell short in one critical area: her voice. Wrapped in smoke and fervor, her tone fearlessly attacked each song, but couldn’t come close to the piercing vibrancy of Piaf’s original performances. The most glaring example coming at the end of the evening during one of the several curtain calls, when the ensemble stood in tableau while an old recording showed the muscle and vulnerability of its originator.
Arranged by Abel Korzeniowski and recorded by the Royal Philharmonic, the music’s re-interpretation elevated the song cycle to a kind of most-modern cabaret-meets-performance art, but a style more befitting BAM than Carnegie Hall.
Kaas saw none of this, for she was so wrapped up in her own performance that the force-fed standing ovation appeared as haunting and awkward as Piaf’s last marriage to hairdresser-turned-actor Théo Sarapo.