Ivan Rebroff – Un Violon Sur Le Toit (1969)

FrontCover1Instantly recognisable in trademark Russian chic – Cossack hat and brightly coloured peasant garb or fur greatcoat – Ivan Rebroff, who has died aged 76, was a European singing sensation. During the 1960s and 70s, he projected a television-friendly image and a sentimental picture of Mother Russia at odds with cold war rhetoric. More importantly, his voice gained him admirers worldwide. His repertoire comprised folk songs and carols, opera and operetta, hymns and songs from musicals, delivered variously in Russian, German, French, English and Afrikaans.

Rebroff employed his extraordinary vocal range – described in the Guinness Books of Records as extending “easily over four octaves from a low F to a high F, one and a quarter octaves above C” – on albums with titles such as Kosaken Müssen Reiten (Cossacks Must Ride, 1970). During his lifetime, his recordings were extensively repackaged and recompiled. The sheer scale of his success has not been properly tallied, but he reportedly chalked up 49 gold discs across five continents.

Rebroff, the epitome of a Russian singer for many, was, in fact, born Hans-Rolf Rippert in Berlin’s Spandau district. He always played his cards close to his chest about his origins. His engineer father apparently came from Hessen, while his mother, he said, was Russian. He grew up in Belzig in Brandenburg and Halle in Saxony-Anhalt. He progressed from singing in choirs to studying singing, piano and violin in Hamburg between 1951 and 1959 on a Fulbright scholarship. His professor of singing and voice, Adolf Detel, guided him towards eastern European song.

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There are two, not necessarily contradictory accounts of why he adopted the stage name “Ivan Rebroff”. In Russian that surname means “rib” and consequently carried an echo of Rippert since Rippe means “rib” in German. Rebroff was also supposedly the name of a famous singer with Moscow’s Bolshoi theatre. (Reinforcing this russification, “Ivan” is also German slang for Russian, much in the vein of “Tommy”.)

After graduating, Rebroff showed his versatility, donning many musical hats including major operatic roles, singing in Cossack choirs and performing the work of Hugo Wolf. In 1968 he made his French breakthrough at the Théâtre Marigny in the leading role of Tevye in Un Violon sur le Toit (the French version of Fiddler on the Roof) and bringing If I Were a Rich Man in its original version to the French public’s notice. France’s love affair with Rebroff had begun and Rebroff joined Zero Mostel, Chaim Topol, Shmuel Rodensky, Alfie Bass and Lex Goudsmit in the international pantheon of Tevye interpreters.

Rebroff lived in many places but finally settled on the Greek island of Skopelos. Until almost the end of his life, he maintained a rigorous touring schedule, and his last concert was in Vienna in December.

Rebroff never married. After his death, Horst Rippert emerged to lay claim to part of his estate. The German press described him as his “secret brother”. (by The Guardian)

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And here is his french version of “Fiddler On The Roof”:

Fiddler on the Roof is a musical with music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, and book by Joseph Stein, set in the Pale of Settlement of Imperial Russia in 1905. It is based on Tevye and his Daughters (or Tevye the Dairyman) and other tales by Sholem Aleichem. The story centers on Tevye, the father of five daughters, and his attempts to maintain his Jewish religious and cultural traditions as outside influences encroach upon the family’s lives. He must cope both with the strong-willed actions of his three older daughters, who wish to marry for love – each one’s choice of a husband moves further away from the customs of his faith – and with the edict of the Tsar that evicts the Jews from their village.

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The original Broadway production of the show, which opened in 1964, had the first musical theatre run in history to surpass 3,000 performances. Fiddler held the record for the longest-running Broadway musical for almost 10 years until Grease surpassed its run. It remains Broadway’s sixteenth longest-running show in history. The production was extraordinarily profitable and highly acclaimed. It won nine Tony Awards, including Best Musical, score, book, direction and choreography. It spawned four Broadway revivals and a highly successful 1971 film adaptation, and the show has enjoyed enduring international popularity. It is also a very popular choice for school and community productions.

Fiddler on the Roof is based on Tevye and his Daughters (or Tevye the Dairyman), a series of stories by Sholem Aleichem that he wrote in Yiddish between 1894 and 1914, and is also influenced by Life Is with People, by Mark Zborowski and Elizabeth Herzog. Aleichem wrote a dramatic adaptation of the stories that he left unfinished at his death, but which was produced in Yiddish in 1919 by the Yiddish Art Theater and made into a film in the 1930s. In the late 1950s, a musical based on the stories, called Tevye and his Daughters, was produced Off-Broadway by Arnold Perl. Rodgers and Hammerstein and then Mike Todd briefly considered bringing the musical to Broadway but dropped the idea.

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The Fiddler by Marc Chagall, from which the musical takes its name

Investors and some in the media worried that the show might be considered “too Jewish” to attract mainstream audiences. Other critics considered that it was too culturally sanitized, “middlebrow” and superficial; Philip Roth, writing in The New Yorker, called it shtetl kitsch. For example, it portrays the characters of the local Russian officer and Fyedka as sympathetic, instead of brutal and cruel, as Sholom Aleichem had described them. Aleichem’s stories ended with Tevye alone, his wife dead and his daughters scattered; in Fiddler, the family ends up together, emigrating with hope to America. The show found the right balance for its time, even if not entirely authentic, to became “one of the first popular post-Holocaust depictions of the vanished world of Eastern European Jewry.” Harold Prince replaced the original producer Fred Coe and brought in director/choreographer Jerome Robbins. The writers and Robbins considered naming the musical Tevye, before landing on a title suggested by various paintings by Marc Chagall that also inspired the original set design. Contrary to popular belief, the “title of the musical does not refer to any specific painting”. During rehearsals, one of the stars, Zero Mostel, feuded with Robbins, for whom he had contempt because Robbins had testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee and was a closeted Jew, while Mostel was publicly proud of his heritage. Other cast members also had run-ins with Robbins, who reportedly “abused the cast, drove the designers crazy [and] strained the good nature of Hal Prince”

Act I:
Tevye, a poor Jewish milkman with five daughters, explains the customs of the Jews in the Russian shtetl of Anatevka in 1905, where their lives are as precarious as the perch of a fiddler on a roof (“Tradition”). At Tevye’s home, everyone is busy preparing for the Sabbath meal. His sharp-tongued wife, Golde, orders their daughters, Tzeitel, Hodel, TheFiddler2Chava, Shprintze and Bielke, about their tasks. Yente, the village matchmaker, arrives to tell Golde that Lazar Wolf, the wealthy butcher, a widower older than Tevye, wants to wed Tzeitel, the eldest daughter. The next two daughters, Hodel and Chava, are excited about Yente’s visit, but Tzeitel is unenthusiastic (“Matchmaker, Matchmaker”). A girl from a poor family must take whatever husband Yente brings, but Tzeitel wants to marry her childhood friend, Motel the tailor.

Tevye is delivering milk, pulling the cart himself, as his horse is lame. He asks God, whom would it hurt “If I Were a Rich Man?” Avram, the bookseller, has news from the outside world about pogroms and expulsions. A stranger, Perchik, hears their conversation and scolds them for doing nothing more than talk. The men dismiss Perchik as a radical, but Tevye invites him home for the Sabbath meal and offers him food and a room in exchange for tutoring his two youngest daughters. Golde tells Tevye to meet Lazar after the Sabbath but does not tell him why, knowing that Tevye does not like Lazar. Tzeitel is afraid that Yente will find her a husband before Motel asks Tevye for her hand. But Motel resists: he is afraid of Tevye’s temper, and tradition says that a matchmaker arranges marriages. Motel is also very poor and is saving up to buy a sewing machine before he approaches Tevye, to show that he can support a wife. The family gathers for the “Sabbath Prayer.”

After the Sabbath, Tevye meets Lazar at Mordcha’s inn, assuming mistakenly that Lazar wants to buy his cow. Once the misunderstanding is cleared up, Tevye agrees to let Lazar marry Tzeitel – with a rich butcher, his daughter will never want for anything. All join in the celebration of Lazar’s good fortune; even the Russian youths at the inn join in the celebration and show off their dancing skills (“To Life”). Outside the inn, Tevye happens upon the Russian Constable, who has jurisdiction over the Jews in the town. The Constable warns him that there is going to be a “little unofficial demonstration” in the coming weeks (a euphemism for a minor pogrom). The Constable has sympathy for the Jewish community but is powerless to prevent the violence.

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The next morning, after Perchik’s lessons with her young sisters, Tevye’s second daughter Hodel mocks Perchik’s Marxist interpretation of a Bible story. He, in turn, criticizes her for hanging on to the old traditions of Judaism, noting that the world is changing. To illustrate this, he dances with her, defying the prohibition against opposite sexes dancing together. The two begin to fall in love. Later, a hungover Tevye announces that he has agreed that Tzeitel will marry Lazar Wolf. Golde is overjoyed, but Tzeitel is devastated and begs Tevye not to force her. Motel arrives and tells Tevye that he is the perfect match for Tzeitel and that he and Tzeitel gave each other a pledge to marry. He promises that Tzeitel will not starve as his wife. Tevye is stunned and outraged at this breach of tradition, but impressed at the timid tailor’s display of backbone. After some soul-searching (“Tevye’s Monologue”), Tevye agrees to let them marry, but he worries about how to break the news to Golde. An overjoyed Motel celebrates with Tzeitel (“Miracle of Miracles”).

In bed with Golde, Tevye pretends to be waking from a nightmare. Golde offers to interpret his dream, and Tevye “describes” it (“Tevye’s Dream”). Golde’s grandmother Tzeitel returns from the grave to bless the marriage of her namesake, but to Motel, not to Lazar Wolf. Lazar’s formidable late wife, Fruma-Sarah, rises from her grave to warn, in graphic terms, of severe retribution if Tzeitel marries Lazar. The superstitious Golde is terrified, and she quickly counsels that Tzeitel must marry Motel. While returning from town, Tevye’s third daughter, the bookish Chava, is teased and intimidated by some Russian youths, but one of them, Fyedka, protects her, dismissing the others. He offers Chava the loan of a book, and a secret relationship begins.

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The wedding day of Tzeitel and Motel arrives, and all the Jews join the ceremony (“Sunrise, Sunset”) and the celebration (“The Wedding Dance”). Lazar gives a fine gift, but an argument arises with Tevye over the broken agreement. Perchik ends the tiff by breaking another tradition: he crosses the barrier between the men and women to dance with Tevye’s daughter Hodel. The celebration ends abruptly when a group of Russians rides into the village to perform the “demonstration”. They disrupt the party, damaging the wedding gifts and wounding Perchik, who attempts to fight back, and wreak more destruction in the village. Tevye instructs his family to clean up the mess.
Act II:
Months later, Perchik tells Hodel he must return to Kiev to work for the revolution. He proposes marriage, admitting that he loves her, and says that he will send for her. She agrees (“Now I Have Everything”). They tell Tevye that they are engaged, and he is appalled that they are flouting tradition by making their own match, especially as Perchik is leaving. When he forbids the marriage, Perchik and Hodel inform him that they do not seek his permission, only his blessing. After more soul searching, Tevye relents – the world is changing, and he must change with it (“Tevye’s Rebuttal”). He informs the young couple that he gives them his blessing and his permission.

Tevye explains these events to an astonished Golde. “Love,” he says, “it’s the new style.” Tevye asks Golde, despite their own arranged marriage, “Do You Love Me?” After dismissing Tevye’s question as foolish, she eventually admits that, after 25 years of living and struggling together and raising five daughters, she does. Meanwhile, Yente tells Tzeitel that she saw Chava with Fyedka. News spreads quickly in Anatevka that Perchik has been arrested and exiled to Siberia (“The Rumor/I Just Heard”), and Hodel is determined to join him there. At the railway station, she explains to her father that her home is with her beloved, wherever he may be, although she will always love her family (“Far From the Home I Love”).

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Time passes. Motel has purchased a used sewing machine, and he and Tzeitel have had a baby. Chava finally gathers the courage to ask Tevye to allow her marriage to Fyedka. Again Tevye reaches deep into his soul, but marriage outside the Jewish faith is a line he will not cross. He forbids Chava to speak to Fyedka again. When Golde brings news that Chava has eloped with Fyedka, Tevye wonders where he went wrong (“Chavaleh Sequence”). Chava returns and tries to reason with him, but he refuses to speak to her and tells the rest of the family to consider her dead. Meanwhile, rumors are spreading of the Russians expelling Jews from their villages. While the villagers are gathered, the Constable arrives to tell everyone that they have three days to pack up and leave the town. In shock, they reminisce about “Anatevka” and how hard it will be to leave what has been their home for so long.

As the Jews leave Anatevka, Chava and Fyedka stop to tell her family that they are also leaving for Kraków, unwilling to remain among the people who could do such things to others. Tevye still will not talk to her, but when Tzeitel says goodbye to Chava, Tevye prompts her to add “God be with you.” Motel and Tzeitel go to Poland as well but will join the rest of the family when they have saved up enough money. As Tevye, Golde and their two youngest daughters leave the village for America, the fiddler begins to play. Tevye beckons with a nod, and the fiddler follows them out of the village. (by wikipedia)

FiddlerOnTheRoof

Personnel:
Philippe Ariotti (vocals)
Sibyl Bartrop (vocals)
Florence Blot (vocals)
Janet Clair (vocals)
Geneviève Darnault (vocals)
Monique Galbert (vocals)
Maria Murano (vocals)
Carlos Otéro (vocals)
Marco Perrin (vocals)
Ivan Rebroff (vocals)
Eliane Thibault (vocals)
Michel Vernac (vocals)
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Marco Perrin et les Hommes (vocals)
Les Chœurs + Orcvhestre under the direction of Wal-Berg (Voldemar Rosenberg)

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Tracklist:
01. Traditions 7.55
o2. Un Homme À Marier 3.45
03. Ah, Si J’Étais Riche 4.55
04. Prière Du Sabbat 2.55
05. À Toi, À Moi, L’Chaim 3.35
06. Prodigieux, Miraculeux 2.11
07. Le Rêve 6.50
08. Un Jour S’En Vient 3.53
09. Si Tu M’Aimes 3.40
10. Loin De Notre Maison 2.30
11. Anatevka 3.00

Music: Jerry Bock
Original lyrics: Sheldon Harnick
French lyrics: Maurice Vidalin

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