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MANILA, Philippines – People fell in love with her voice. She abused everything and everyone: drugs, alcohol, herself, lovers, friends, employees, an employer she betrayed to murderous thieves, and a daughter she had at 17 she abandoned to die of meningitis at the age of two.
In life, Edith Piaf, the iconic French crooner and balladeer, was difficult to love. Intrinsically flawed, unrelentingly obnoxious, conventionally unattractive, she, at her most selfless and gallant moments, pushed people away just to set them free by acting in more loathsome ways.
And yet they loved her still. People flung themselves at her — whether for love, fame, or money — knowing full well they would be smashed upon the jagged rock wall of her facade. She was irresistible. She was a siren. Her voice seduced them. Her voice was her humanity.
So imagine the challenge for an actress with the audacity to truthfully play Piaf — a patently unlikable heroine — with only her voice to elicit any empathy from audiences. Bridging the gulf imposed by a foreign language, a forgotten age, and a character like no else before or since, by attempting to sing the songs of a voice nonpareil. Who can be such an actress?
Who can sing such truth? Who can be Piaf?
Pinky Amador is the answer.
Amador stars as Piaf in Atlantis Productions’ latest offering at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium of the RCBC Plaza. Much has been said about Amador’s intensive and extensive research: her love of French language and culture, travels to France, and interviews with people who personally knew and worked with Piaf.
But in real life, people are judged by results and not by their effort. What is seen and heard is their work and not their studies. Most of Amador’s audiences are neither francophones nor historians, just as many of Piaf’s fans around the world across decades neither understood her songs or knew her personally.
What matters is the truthfulness of her songs and her character. And if these be the criteria, Amador triumphs.
The songbird best known for “La Vie en Rose,” the autobiographical ballad she herself wrote, as well as other songs like “Padam, Padam” and “Hymne à l’Amour,” Piaf is but a stage name, meaning “sparrow.” She was born Édith Giovanna Gassion in Paris on December 19, 1915. Her father was a soldier, street acrobat and actor, while her mother was a cafe singer of Moroccan and Italian descent known as Line Marsa.
Named after Edith Cavell, an English nurse executed by the Germans for aiding French soldiers escaping from German captivity, war would repeatedly devastate Piaf’s life. Abandoned by her parents to the care of her paternal grandmother — a brothel owner — when her father was drafted into the military, she spent her seminal years in the company of harlots.
After the war, she joined her father’s roving acrobatic show where she would sing on the streets. At age 17, she bore a daughter named Marcelle whom she abandoned to the care of the child’s father, who raised the girl until she died of meningitis at two years old.
During the Second World War, she entertained German occupiers while helping several people escape Nazi persecution. She survived the war, accusations of collaboration, her vices, her intransigence, and her many hangers-on to become an international superstar, earning accolades in America and the world over.
She famously carried on an affair with Marcel Cerdan, a married man and the middleweight world boxing champion. Upon her insistence to fly from Paris to New York City to meet her, Cerdan died in a place crash on October 1949. She never forgave herself even as she went through a succession of lovers up until her silver years.
Through this life’s journey of hurt and abuse, Amador took us, enchanted us with heart-rending songs in French, and revealed to us Piaf’s trials without the pretense of French accents. Despite Piaf, Amador made us love her. Bravo. – Rappler.com
(Rome Jorge is the editor in chief of Asian Traveler magazine.)
(PIAF runs until March 23 at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium, RCBC Plaza, Makati. For tickets, contact Atlantis Productions at 892-7078.)