Siri Vik may be at her best conveying madness. And it was divine madness that led off La Mome: Piaf 100, her vocal tribute to Edith Piaf, and wove itself in and out of the program tonight at Eugene’s Shedd Institute.
“I feel like I’ve fallen off the deep end,” she told the audience in a Piaf-like monologue as the show began. “It’s had the kind of effect on me, like I feel a little emotionally unbalanced.”
Vik, a Eugene singer whose career I’ve followed for years, has a background in opera and has occasionally tried her hand at jazz. But she’s at her artistic best — and this is saying something — working the rich collection of songs from the likes of Edith Piaf and Jacques Brel, mid-20th century European cabaret singers.
Piaf, particularly, was a tragic figure in her personal life, and as Vik explained between songs, seemed to be constantly searching for a perfect love that was never to be found. Vik has had a fair share of ups and downs in her own life, and she excels at channeling love and suffering on stage through her music.
Friday’s show — which will be repeated Saturday evening and Sunday in a matinee — traced the career of Piaf, the French singer sometimes called the Little Sparrow, in three separate sets of songs, with two intermissions. Add in a fair amount of narration between the music — the Shedd is nothing if not educational in this regard — and the show stretched to nearly three hours.
That wasn’t a problem. The concert ended well before I was at all ready to let go of the splendid music. Vik can sing loud and forceful — that opera background — but she can also sing sweet and lyrical. She brought all her vocal and acting skills to play during the evening, sometimes standing tall before the audience and moving like a jerking marionette, and at other times kneeling or sitting close to the edge of the stage, turning the performance into an intimate conversation.
You don’t have to be a student or even a fan of Edith Piaf to appreciate this music. Most people will recognize at least some of the songs. La Vie en rose, with which Vik began to wind down the concert at the end of the third set, was Piaf’s trademark song, and just about everybody knows it.
Some songs will be familiar as well from their American adaptations.
Even the songs you don’t know it all will resonate. Les filles qui la nuit, which Vik translated as “the girls who give themselves to the night,” was a quiet, gorgeous poem; and Jezebel, a French adaptation of an American western song about a certain kind of gal, needs no translation at all.
Vik was backed nicely for the performance by a quintet headed up by Jesse Cloninger on reeds, with Nathalie Fortin, keyboards; Nick Hamel, guitar and banjo; Dusty Carlson, bass; and Adam Carlson, on drums.
The Shedd’s Jaqua Concert Hall is configured in cabaret style for the show, with the main floor given over to round tables, and somewhere around the beginning of the third set I actually began to imagine myself in a nightclub in Paris in 1940. Yes, the show is that good. Go see it.
Siri Vik: La mome: Piaf 100
The Shedd Institute
7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, March 6 and 7, and 1:30 p.m. Sunday, March 8