A SPARROW FROM AVIGNON: Mireille Mathieu.
VILNIUS - Mireille Mathieu has been the queen of French song for more than 40 years already. She replaced Edith Piaf on this throne. Maybe the average young Anglo-Saxon has no clue about her, but she is kind of a national institution in France, having sung for Leonid Brezhnev, Ronald Reagan, John Paul II and many other world leaders. In 2008, she was a guest of Vladimir Putin in Moscow and they both visited the tent of Muammar al-Gaddafi, who also happened to be in Moscow, staying in his tent with his sexy young female bodyguards. On Bastille Day this year, Mathieu was awarded with the French National Order of the Legion of Honor, which is the highest French state decoration, established by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802.
Mathieu was born in the southeastern French town of Avignon in 1946. This is why she is often called in the media the “Sparrow from Avignon,” in reference to Piaf’s nickname “Sparrow of the Streets” – Mathieu, like Piaf, is a short woman. Mathieu’s glory started in 1964 when she won a televised competition for amateurs, singing Piaf’s song La Vie en Rose (“Life in Pink”), which could be described as the second most world-wide famous song of France (after La Marseillaise) – even one of the brothel complexes in Amsterdam is officially named La Vie en Rose.
Mathieu was the oldest of fourteen children in her family. Her father ran a stonemason shop outside a cemetery in Avignon. The family was poor. When Mathieu became a star in Paris, the first thing she did was buy a telephone for her family back in Avignon, so that they would no longer need to keep going to the local drug store to call her.
Mathieu’s image, including her hairstyle and style of her songs, has not changed since the beginning of her career. She is famous for her very sound and specific trill pronunciation of “err” in her songs - the French do pronounce it in another way. She does it pour la musique, i.e. “for the music.” Another element of her style is singing the words’ endings, where she tries to hold a note for a long duration, though those endings, although written, are not pronounced in the usual spoken French. The French words are short and French singers, especially the older generation, used to prolong them to produce a melody.
Flemish-origin Jacques Brel, Armenian-origin Charles Aznavour and the libertarian of Russian-Jewish-origin Serge Gainsbourg were among the main creators of the image of the French song, while Mathieu is a French singer of purely ethnic French origin and is a rather rare case among French chanson celebrities. Anyway, Mathieu sings in many languages: French, German, English, Spanish, and Italian. She even had a song in Catalan in her repertoire. Especially popular is her German-language song Der Pariser Tango. La Marseillaise is also among her favorites – she is a very patriotic woman.
During the Soviet-era in the Baltics, the Kremlin-imposed censorship did not allow the playing on TV or radio modern Anglo-Saxon rock and pop music because it was considered too revolutionary and ideologically dangerous, while the quite bourgeois-style Mathieu was so common on Soviet TV that the Brezhnev-era kids in the Baltics know her almost as well as they know their mom and dad. It is quite ironic, because Mathieu’s views were far from the convictions of the Kremlin’s elders. Mathieu is a supporter of the French center-right. She gave her support to Nicolas Sarkozy during his election campaign. Mathieu is a devout Roman Catholic. She often prays to Saint Rita, who is the saint helping in hopeless and desperate causes. Mathieu states that Saint Rita did some miracles for her. When the feast of Saint Rita is celebrated on May 22, Catholics in French-speaking countries come to churches with red roses in their hands. It is obvious that during Mathieu’s concert feast in the Baltics, people will bring some red roses as well.
Mireille Mathieu will perform at the Arena Riga on Nov. 25 and in Vilnius’ Pramogu Arena on Nov. 26. So hurry up and get your tickets on time!