ALAN SIMON – Chouans

The Right Honourable 2019

Royalist uprising as rock opera renders revisiting history a risky yet rapturous trip.

ALAN SIMON –
Chouans

Regularly inhabiting the world of legends with his “Excalibur” endeavor and occasionally venturing far into the past, as "Big Bang" proved, Alan Simon’s no stranger to staging the events of not too distant, if rather dark, ages. 2009 saw the release of “Anne De Bretagne” and, after one decade has passed, there’s “Chouans” – marking the 230th year since the French revolution began but focusing on Chouannerie, an anti-Republican revolt that took place a little later – which allows the composer to eventually indulge the Gallic emotionality he only hinted at earlier. Also, by casting his compatriots to sing the parts of Robespierre, Louis XVI, de Bonchamps and other prominent figures, Simon removed a “spot the star” property of his previous efforts to let the listener concentrate on the double album’s storyline, whose interpretation is quite gripping in Alan’s hands.

Still, if symphonic orchestra and choir create dramatic panorama from “Ouverture” onward, electric ensemble balance it with bombast of a lighter sort, accentuating pop aspect of the tunes on display – the memorable melodies and contagious grooves that make numbers like “L’appel de Cadoudal” irresistible – so while such pieces as the tremulous prayer of “Ma France, Mon Espérance” and instrumental “Ça Ira” may not always have the desired depth, they’re alluring enough to attract non-francophones. Be it heavy guitar and organ propelling “Dieu & Le Roy” towards thunderous heights, the delicate piano behind “Le Chant des Paysans” or spoken-word snippet from Victor Hugo on “La Virée de Galerne” where a recurrent theme runs from nervous folk to anxious disco, this album always has a detail to keep it all arresting.

Although “L’Amazone” seems to have crossed over here from Simon’s “Tristan & Yseult” to project Kohann’s soaring vocals onto theatrical backdrop, and “God Save The King” contains a reference to a certain sword, the tense “L’infernale Danse” firmly belongs to “Chouans” and its belligerent, tragic context – which is indefinitely beautiful in “Mourir Pour Des Idées”: the ’70s-styled ballad of purely Parisian disposition. This rock opera – shaped, as usual, with a staging prospect – might not be the pinnacle of Alan’s creativity and ambition, but it provides a lot a breathtaking moments and a personal perspective of history.

****

August 19, 2019

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