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Marie Christine Vila
Author of Cathy Berberian Cant’actrice

“Some foolishness here and there/You need to laugh a little”
The humour of Cathy Berberian

(“De la sottise éparse/Il faut bien rire un peu”. L’humour de Cathy Berberian)

Inseparable from Cathy Berberian’s musical life, irony and humour imbue and guide her musical choices, creations, interpretations and theatrical presentations. One of the essential features of her artistic personality is her sense of humour, of the ridiculous, of amusement, her art of combining the serious with the ridiculous, the greatest professionalism with frivolity, and respect with irony. As a little girl she trained herself to sing by having fun with her voice, imitating everything she heard—animals, noises, singers. The young woman who went on to marry Luciano Berio did not give up her domestic clowning, which have inspired John Cage and many others. Later on, going beyond the constraints of the music composed for (through?) her, she gives free rein to parody, pastiche, travesty—peaceful weapons for combating ready-made ideas, undermining certainties, shedding a fresh light on the repertoire. The clown’s role that Cathy Berberian claims responds to the deep desire to question the tradition, to express an inventive, open conception of music, to anchor music and singing in life itself. And that cannot be done without smashing idols and doing away with received ideas, in a burst of laughter. Irony, brandished as a weapon against dogma, sanctimoniousness, obscurantism and reaction, is echoed by a humour that is more ambiguous, fleeting and light-hearted; the kind that protects us against yet more dogma and makes life bearable. Cathy Berberian’s humour (vocal, theatrical and musical) reveals a spirit and an intelligence constantly in search of truth and beset by doubts, at the heart of creation.

Marie Christine Vila is the author of numerous books on music: Cathy Berberian Cant’actrice (Fayard, 2003), Quatre siècles d’opéra (Larousse, 2000), Guide des opéras de Mozart, edited by Brigitte Massin (Fayard, 1991), Sotto Voce, Mozart à Paris (Actes Sud, 1991) and forthcoming (provisional title) La vie musicale parisienne (Parigramme, 2007). She also published articles about the musical Bouffonistes et Ramoneurs ou Les Mésaventures du Goût (created in 1995 at the Péniche-Opéra, resumed at the Musée Cognacq Jay and at the Studio des Champs Elysées).

(translation: UVA Vertalers)

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