Caroline Nin’s tribute show to Edith Piaf, Hymne ?iaf, has been on high rotation since premiering 10 years ago. Piaf has been her calling card, paving the way for tours throughout Europe and the UK. In 2002 Nin was invited to perform in Australia for the Adelaide Cabaret Festival. Last year she returned to our shores with a sold-out season at The Studio of the Sydney Opera House.
Her up and coming tour will take in New Zealand, Melbourne and Sydney -“ but she hopes to return to our shores later in the year to perform in more of our major centres.
I guess they want to see me first, Nin says by phone from her home in Paris.
The nonchalant response seems out of step with her high media profile. Since Nin burst onto the cabaret scene, critics have been unanimous in their praise. Words such as magnificent and sublime are scattered throughout reviews of her shows.
Alastair Mabbott from The Scotsman summed up the overall sentiment when he simply wrote je t’aime, Caroline Nin in a review of her 1999 Edinburgh Festival performance.
The jazz-trained singer seems to have little time for such praise. Her focus remains the music and to illustrate her passion she refers to Piaf, who famously declared singing was a drug.
She had two things in life, love and singing, and she could not live with just one of those -“ she needed both, Nin says. For me it’s the same. It really is as important to me as my love life -“ it’s just the way it is.
Nin made her singing debut in the late 80s at The Hollywood Savoy with her own interpretations of jazz icons Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughan. In the early 90s she moved to London where she was invited to perform at Marc Almond’s Freedom Theatre in Soho. She was spotted by Vidal Sassoon’s artistic director and immediately booked to perform at hairdressing conventions worldwide. That was the birth of her Edith Piaf show which, she adamantly points out, is not so much an impersonation as an interpretation.
It’s got to do more with the passion and the understanding of the songs, she says. I guess some singers wouldn’t want to approach that because it doesn’t speak to them and these songs really are so passionate and they really speak to me. My life is based on passion in every field -“ I really relate to these songs.
While it is Piaf’s rousing tunes that launched Nin’s international career, it is Marlene Dietrich’s androgyny that has captivated and inspired her. Dietrich’s breathy style adds another bow to the cabaret singer’s repertoire and it is from the iconic movie star that she borrows the cross-gender dress.
Personally, I love to dress in suits and I would say that’s what really attracted me to Marlene in the first place, she says. When I saw her as a teenager I was like, wow, this woman’s got class and I didn’t realise the guts that it took to wear a suit back in 1929. Men would literally scream at her -“ it was considered indecent for a woman to wear a suit.
Caroline Nin plays at The Studio, Sydney Opera House, 25 June-5 July. Tickets start at $25. Bookings: 9250 7777 or visit www.sydneyoperahouse.com.