As we walk into a rather austere hall at the French Institute, two girls are giggling and practicing a song. There is one of those little blackboards you see outside French bistros, chalked with ‘Fermé’. When they see us, they quickly turn it to ‘Ouvert’, don their waitresses’ aprons, and show us to our tables. They are Justine Curatolo (singer) and Elisa Bellanger (pianist). Justine shows us the menu - 20 songs for the entrée, 20 for the main course, and 20 for dessert. Each table gets to choose a song for each course, to a maximum of four. As we choose, she calls them out to Elisa, who scrabbles through a huge pile of sheet music. We are served each course separately, a glass of wine accompanying the first and last, with a plat froid of paté, ham, and cheese in the middle.
The songs range from Purcell and Vivaldi, through Fauré, Poulenc and Satie, to Gershwin and Bernstein. Dealing with five languages, Curatolo obligingly offers translations in a self-deprecating manner. She is a classical soprano, but she has plenty of character and oomph in, for example, an Offenbach aria about how awful men are. Bellanger is an exquisite accompanist – her line on Summertime was breathtaking. They clearly delight in each others company although, given that the support is rock-solid, sometimes Curatolo could be a little freer in her interpretations. For example, Poulenc’s Les Chemins d’Amour, a bittersweet memory of lost love with a gorgeous slow waltz tune, could be more swoony. After all, the composer did say, mischievously, that he wanted to write a bad song, but a good bad song.
Curatolo’s voice is excellent in lower and middle register, but in her upper register tends to open out into a loudness which is inappropriate for an intimate setting. More of a floating quality would not come amiss.
But these are minor cavils. The concept is charming, the execution is charming, and the two performers are charming. Very French and adorable.