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Live review

George Michael 

Palais Garnier Documentary

added: 2 Apr 2014 // gig date: 1 Apr 2014
reviewer: marie larmour

George Michael - Palais Garnier Documentary - Printable version
George Michael’s Palais Garnier Documentary premiered last night on British television on BBC 1. After “sitting on the shelf for over a year and a half”. It is a mixture of Film Noir style, black and white, behind the scenes, insightful footage. It combines these with vibrant live performances, documenting Symphonica The Tour, at home in this Classical setting. Such is the interest in George Michaels latest musical offering, his documentary already premiered exclusively last month (March) in London, England to an audience of invited guests only, on April 6th in Amsterdam in Holland and is soon to be aired in France.

Produced primarily by David Austin and Caroline True, these lifelong friends (his “Valued Destinies”), documented “his Journey to the Opera House”, the pinnacle achievement of his 30 yr career to date and his “coming of age” as an accomplished artist. Caroline True, his tour photographer even persuaded the guardians of the Palais Garnier to allow her to photograph George on its roof, an honour only previously afforded to Grace Kelly. They also took pictures in the auditorium, of him looking “quite Rat Pack in his Armani suit”, languishing against its sinuous marble staircase. These are very stylish shots, “marking the end of the Symphonica tour.... a deliberate celebration of his survival.” Said Caroline in a previous interview.

Following in the wake of Classical superstars like Handel, Beethoven & Mozart, George Michael is the first contemporary global superstar, permitted on the Classical, elitist Palais Garnier stage. No pressure then! Taking it in his stride, he filled Europe’s most illustrious palatial opera house (a life-long dream), with his latest, Symphonica The Orchestral Tour, replete with full Chez National Symphonic Orchestra, his band of musicians and backing singers.
The young 21yr old boy who was in awe at the beauty of the Opera Garnier during his first time in Paris, was now on its stage, generously performing for the crème of Paris’ socialites and celebrities for Sidaction, the French Aids Charity and attending the gala dinner and auction afterwards.

Explaining his wish to play European Opera houses in a previous BBC Radio 2 interview George said... “The best performance...as a vocalist, I knew ... would come out of a combination of the support of the audience at such close range, and the fact that I can hear myself so well in an opera house. The acoustics are built for singers....Getting the actual balance of instruments right in the room is essential for a singer if they want to give any detail to what they do. I’ve never been happier playing live...”

His Symphonica Album entered the UK charts at No 1 (What else!), on its release on 17th of March. It had already entered the top 10 of 11 European countries’ music charts on its pre order sales alone the week previously. It was ably explained by George Michaels Head of Sound, on tour, Andy “Baggy” Robinson when he told Fast-and-wide.com. in Case Study Symphonica The Orchestral tour that; - “its tunes you know and covers you don’t, all rearranged”. In the pursuance of technical excellence, Baggy and crew have created the biggest Digico rig to date on tour comprising of 3-5, state of the art SD7’s mixing consoles, that record directly from their concert output each night so that elements can be used in the recording of the tour album. Musical arrangements include contributions from Henry Hey, the tours Musical Director and the very talented, highly regarded arranger, Rob Mathes among others. All of course, under the ever watchful George Michael eye. “Basically everything you see in the show is based on his direction”, Benoit Richard, lighting Director.

The Palais documentary also features rare behind-the-scenes footage of George and Phil Ramone working closely together, shortly before his regrettable death in March 2013. Gary Bradshaw, Georges Front of House sound technician, said, “Phil Ramone was at the first show (Symphonica) and he came up and said it sounded really good. That was such a huge pat on the back. Learning from him was great because he had had a lot of orchestral work before with Paul Simon and Barbara Streisand, so to have a comment like that from the horse’s mouth was just fantastic-you don’t get those opportunities too much”. Sadly these were prophetic words.

This was the last production of Phil Ramone, the legendary, celebrated Grammy Award winner and innovative music producer, of screen, stage and recording studio. Symphonica was his final creative collaboration with George and it provides a touching tribute to his 6 decades and more of immeasurable talent with which he produced the live segments of Symphonica. Accompanied by the strains of “I Remember You”, Air Studio footage shows George clapping (as if in appreciation) as he celebrates the life of his close friend and much loved and admired musical mentor. George describes him... “as the most accomplished producer of the 20th century...He understood more about music than anyone I had ever met...and it breaks my heart that he’s not around to see this album released or to watch this documentary”.

“It is a great honour to be the last artist he worked with, he brought the world so much great music and joy. He treated me with respect... He was a rare genius, the type of person you fall in love with easily and trust him completely... we should never forget him”.

Interlacing finely honed Symphonica performances are evocative images of Paris by night, with the Eiffel Tower as its beacon, and the Paris Garnier, its royal crown, bejewelled with pearl sculpture. These are offered as testament to its impressive pedigree. Capped with its classical roof sculpture of Apollo, Poetry and Music, it is encapsulated in time with its golden baroque embellishments and sumptuous marble and crystal, reminiscent of the opulence of the “Sun Kings Palace of Versailles”. Worth every cent of its 36,010,571.04 Francs in 1875, it is home also to the Paris Opera Ballet and made even more famous by Gaston Lerouxs’ 1910 “Phantom Of The Opera.”

George Michael provides the narrative of the background footage that is simple but none the less sumptuous in its intimate, anecdotal nature. The artful juxtapose of black and white scenes of its real life, informative narratives, backstage at the Garnier and Air Studio sessions are set against the vivid gold rich, auditorium and empowering stage performances. It delineates the stark contrast of an instinctive performers’ existence on and off stage.

Surrounded by the companionship of talented, valued friends and colleagues, their combined efforts emblazon onto the stage, under the competent direction of George Michael, his vocals golden and crystalline like their surroundings, edgy with emotional gravitas. The power generated by the slick polished performance and silky smooth blended vocals, instrumentation and visual wrap around screen embellishment, is matched only by the energy of the audience in their appreciation of this symphony of sight and sound.

Despite the formality of their surroundings and innate Parisian reserve, they are guilty of many standing ovations and of even hanging precariously from their balcony boxes. They were “hysterical” according to Jean Paul Gautier; he never saw this dancing and going wild before. The Paris Garnier was reckless, alive, more akin to when Mozart’s’ popular operas shamelessly rocked its seats. His regularly performed operas have almost as much claim to residency in the Palais as his bronze bust. It greets you as you enter this illustrious National Academy of Music, so imposing in the Film Noir footage. His history draws surprising parallels in the Palais’ most recent George Michael’s coined “Popera”.

According to Mozart’s family, peers and biographers, he was very independently minded and extremely talented from a very early age, always searching for something new and better than he did before. Passionate about music and learning from those he respected. He loved dancing and his dance music proved very popular, the sale of which earned him money. “He embarked on many long, tiring, but very popular world concert tours in Europe & England,... with himself as soloist...He booked unconventional venues creating a harmonious connection between an eager composer-performer and a delighted audience”. They in turn got the “opportunity of witnessing the transformation and perfection of a major musical genre”. One of his shows “Premiered in Prague, hosting musical complexity new to performers and audiences alike”. He even fell ill (in Prague) and was bedridden in November, seriously ill! “Sensuality at the centre of ...his works...hints at the ‘daemon’.....in all of his supreme expressions of suffering...there is something shockingly voluptuous.”

Am I the only one here joining the dots???...I think that parallel is a fitting Film Noire close, to a magnificent, uplifting night. Complete with a new Phantom of the P’Opera, the Palais Garnier documentary was tasteful, informative, evoking the heady memories that many fans still fondly recall. It offered insight and a back stage pass into previously inaccessible tempting areas and stirred up fan nostalgia for the exciting sights and sounds of Symphonica on tour. It also brought home the great loss the music industry suffered with the passing of such a dear man and talented innovator, Phil Ramone.

Life’s “Valued Destinies”
When Stardust combines
Forms Heavens Conjurer
Our Magnus Opus sublimed
Ambrosia Envigours
Augments Friendships vine
In “Valued Destinies”
Our Lives Defined



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4 stars

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