Thursday 6 September 2012

Queen of the Night

As the first glittering name on the marquee, jazz singer Laura Fygi left quite an impression at the launch of CHINA ROUGE. The chanteuse shares a few notes, of the musical kind, with P.Ramakrishnan.

She seems a little flustered at our arrival. “An interview? There’s a shoot too?” she asks – surprised to see our photographer lumbering through the door with his equipment. “I’m not ready.”

But she looks more than ready. Dressed in a shimmering cocktail dress, her large eyes kohled, with a great big smile (albeit a slightly reluctant one at first), Laura Fygi looks as though she was born for the stage. As the shoot begins – and less than half an hour before she is due to walk the red carpet at the grand opening of CHINA ROUGE – she is all of a sudden the consummate professional. The camera loves her.

“I’ve been to Macau before – I came to old, old Macau, not this modern city. I came for a concert so many years ago, and it was nothing like this,” she says, waving a manicured hand around at her luxurious suite at the Banyan Tree Macau. “It’s gorgeous here. It’s like out of a fairy tale. I saw CHINA ROUGE in the afternoon – it took my breath away… It’s another world in there.”

Indeed it is. As Fygi opens the night with the classic Dream a Little Dream of Me, she has the audience in the palm of her hand. And she knows how to work a room, easily receiving applause and kisses from an appreciative audience. We speak again after the show, when she shares more about her life as a performer.

“I work off the energy of the crowd; there was an electric vibe in the air, especially as it was the first night. Opening night has its own thrills and anticipation,” she says. “When the audience is willing to participate, it’s more fun. In every country I go to, perform in, it’s a new audience and new relationship. Perhaps an Asian crowd is a little shier at first, especially on the microphone, but they’re eager. The CHINA ROUGE crowd was wonderful.”

Booked for two opening nights at CHINA ROUGE, Fygi enraptured the audience with her mellifluous tone. Sticking to jazz standards for her set list, it’s no surprise to learn who Fygi’s favorite artists are. “For me, Julie London is the singer. The greatest. Ever,” she gushes, adding, “These days I’ve been listening to a lot of Michael Bublé in the car, especially his covers of classics and some of his new songs that have that old flavor. Frank Sinatra is another perpetual favorite.”

As she reels off the names of timeless singers and songs, Fygi herself seems to have taken on a timeless aura. She looks easily a decade younger than her age, 56, and the multi-faceted performer is versatile enough to tackle giant, orchestral numbers alongside smooth jazz songs. Stretching out on a divan at the door to her suite, she poses à la Cleopatra – perched on one arm, her body reclining across cushions. Of Egyptian and Dutch parentage, equally at home singing in English or French, and now with a Chinese song in her repertoire, Fygi embodies the axiom that music has no borders.

“When I saw the large Chinese paintings and the calligraphy, I knew I’d fit right in on the CHINA ROUGE stage. It’s so gorgeous, so beautiful – it’s got the vibe of a certain era in China that I’ve read about in novels, seen in old movies,” she says. “I’m doing pretty well in China – for the last 10 years, I’ve been coming. I’ve sung in English and French – I’m most comfortable with those languages, or even Spanish and Portuguese. Singing a Chinese song was a challenge – I don’t speak Chinese. I’ve had to learn; it’s one of the hardest things I’ve had to do. Someone told me what the words mean: that’s really important to me. If you don’t know what you’re singing, how can you emote?”

Fygi’s music is certainly a multicultural product; still, the level of success she has been enjoying recently in China, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Macau seems surprising.

“It’s about the music. I happened to be successful in other countries already, and when I was first asked to sing in China, it was exciting,” she says. “I wanted to know how people would react. Every new country is exciting. I know they like the songs, as they’ve bought the records – but am I the person they think I am? When I’m up there, live on stage, will the audience go for it?”

As she made her way up there, that star-lit night in Macau, to face a new audience at a new venue, what was going through her mind? “I can’t remember,” she says. “But then I can’t remember much about shows gone by; I don’t focus on the past. I can’t even remember my first concert ever. I have fond memories of a show at the Royal Theater in Amsterdam with the Metropole Orchestra; I played the lead in Victor Victoria in Singapore – those were memorable times, but I don’t remember individual shows. They’re all great – I’m always having fun!”

As Galaxy Entertainment’s Vice Chairman Francis Lui mentioned on opening night, one of his favorite all-time singers is Fygi. Has she been surprised to find herself so popular on this side of the world? “No, I’m not surprised – I’m totally worth it!” she says with a laugh. As she is whisked away by her entourage, her parting note says it all: “You know, my last album was called The Best is Yet to Come.”

Evidently it is a motto she lives by.

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