Siobhan Stagg sings French songs in an Adelaide Festival recital

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Siobhan Stagg is a highly regarded soprano who will perform French songs as part of a recial at Adelaide Festival. We had a chat to Siobhan Stagg about the composers whose songs she will sing as well as singing generally.

Siobhan Stagg
Image: Todd Rosenberg


On 7 March 2020 as part of the Adelaide Festival, you will be singing four love songs by three French composers, namely: 


  • Poulenc: Fiançailles pour rire, 
  • Messiaen: Poèmes pour Mi,
  • Debussy: Ariettes oubliées, and
  • Poulenc: Les chemins de l’amour.


Of these songs which is your favourite and why?

These are actually larger song cycles, ie. sets of songs grouped by the specific composers. Altogether it’s around 22 individual songs. I love all of them but would probably cite the Debussy Ariettes Oubliées as my favourites, simply because I’ve been singing them the longest; they’ve travelled with me from my student days and in various different incarnations. I recently recorded them on CD with the Noga String Quartet, and performed a version with full orchestra in Lyon, arranged by the composer Brett Dean. It’ll be nice to come back to them in their original form with piano for this recital at the Adelaide Festival. 


How do these songs differ from each other?

They are very different in mood and style. Poulenc’s Fiançailles pour rire comprises six quirky, humorous or touching descriptions of love in all its forms. Poèmes pour Mi is a set of songs which Olivier Messiaen wrote for his first wife, four years into their marriage. Her pet name was ‘Mi’. They are an affirmation of marital and religious devotion, and quite musically challenging and thus less often performed. I’ve been singing Debussy’s Ariettes Oubliées for over ten years now; they are an example of masterful word-painting. The Poulenc Chemins de l’amour is a lovely party piece to end – it’s a waltz with slightly melancholy lyrics about lost love, and  is sure to send everyone out humming. 


What are the challenges in singing in a language which is not your mother tongue?

Thankfully I’ve always loved studying foreign languages; it’s part and parcel of being a classical singer. French is my favourite language to sing; the nasal vowels lend themselves nicely to healthy vocal resonance. The challenges are that you have to invest many hours getting to know the text, and when it’s a complex poem by someone like Paul Verlaine, you have to not only translate the words and pronounce them authentically, but dig deep to discover the true meaning behind each phrase. By the time you perform the songs, you want it to feel like second nature, and be thinking the words as if they are your own thoughts.  


Where did your love of singing come from and what drew you towards the classical music and opera world?

I always loved to sing from when I was a child growing up in Mildura in country Victoria. I would sing and dance along with Julie Andrews, Disney films and pop songs on the radio. My discovery of classical music and opera came later, when I moved to Melbourne for University. I love the expressive power of classical music. You can listen to the same symphony or opera over and over and never stop noticing new details in these richly beautiful pieces of music.


Has the language in which we sing about love changed much since these composers wrote these songs?

I suppose popular love songs these days have simpler tunes, designed to be catchy, sometimes with very few words. But the essence remains the same; they are all intended to move us and celebrate all it means to feel “in love”.


Who is your favourite French composer?

Oh that’s a difficult question. I love Ravel, Poulenc, Fauré, Massenet, Edith Piaf…  but my favourite has to be Debussy. He wrote the opera Pelléas et Mélisande, which completely changed the history of French music. The role of Mélisande has brought me success in both Australia and in France, and allowed me to learn the language in a deeper way.  It’s a masterpiece. 


What has been your favourite recital to date?

Pure recitals (where I sing a full solo program with a pianist) are a less frequent part of my schedule than fully-staged operas and symphonic concerts with orchestra. An absolute performance highlight to date was playing Cinderella (in Massenet’s Cendrillon) for my American debut in Chicago. It was a stunning production by the amazing French stage director, Laurent Pelly, and was an absolute dream come true.  


Apart from Australia, you’ve sung in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, France, England and the United States. Where and for whom would be your dream performance?

Any performance of great music, with an engaged audience and supportive and talented colleagues is a joy. I like how the French and Swiss audiences do the synchronised unison clap when they really like something. it’s such a buzz. 


Who is the recital best appreciated by?

This recital will appeal to anyone who appreciates classical music and singing, or who has an interest in French poetry. The pianist, Timothy Young, is truly exceptional! We’ve included repertoire which is elegant and charming, and some which is more sophisticated, so there should be something for everyone. 


Do people need to understand French to attend the recital?

It’s not necessary to understand French to attend the recital, though if you understand the poems it might enhance your experience. Often translations are provided in the program, or I will say a few words in an introduction, so you won’t be left in the dark. Personally I find the music beautiful on its own, even without the words. You can just close your eyes and be swept away by the harmonies. 


Anything else you’d like to add?

Feel free to follow me on social media:ánStagg

or at my website:


Siobhan Stagg will perform as part of Adelaide Festival at 5pm on Saturday 7 March 2020 at the UKARIA Cultural Centre in Mount Barker. Tickets cost $59 and there are discounts available for Friends of the Adelaide Festival and concession card holders.


Buy your tickets here:


Who is your favourite French composer? Have you ever seen Siobhan Stagg perform?


You may also like to read our interviews with other Adelaide Festival artists:

Christophe Bricheteau from Compagnie Carabosse about Fire Gardens

Julie Tenret from Focus Cie about Dimanche

Compagnie Chaliwaté about Dimanche

Nick Power about Two Crews and Between Tiny Cities 



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Louise Blackwell takes you for A night in Paris at Adelaide Fringe

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Last Sunday evening, we went to see Louise Blackwell and her ensemble of 6 musicians for her show A night in Paris. St John’s Anglican Church was full, and the crowd attentive.

Photo: Cat McKenzie

Louise Blackwell & The French Set sing well-known French songs as well as lesser known French songs. Yes, you will hear songs by Piaf, but you will also hear from artists such as Greco, Charles Aznavour and Georges Brassens. And some Serge Gainsbourg, bien sûr! In A night in Paris, Louise Blackwell sang, among others, “Le Petit Commerce” by Boris Vlan, “Parlez-moi d’amour” written by Jean Lenoir, “Aux bois de mon cœur” by Brassens. Her version of “Ou sont passés mes pantoufles” by Marcel et son orchestre was very amusing. We laughed a lot and it was the perfect end to the show.


Louise is trained in jazz, having studied it for two years in Paris. She sung in the Parisian jazz bars, including L’Ogresse Théâtre des marionnettes, Sunside, Les Sept Lezards, Le Franc Pinot and Café Universel. She sings accompanied by her group The French Set, which is made up of 6 very talented musicians. Julian Ferraretto plays violin and is a reputed and very much in demand violinist. Mark Ferguson plays piano but is also so much more, also being a composer and arranger. Joshua Baldwin plays the drums. John Aué is on double bass. He is also a lecturer of bass and jazz in Adelaide.  Gary Isaacs is the guitarist and Alex Taylor is on brass.


Something that Louise does, which so many others who sing in foreign languages either forget or choose not to do is to explain a little about what each song is about. We cannot assume that the francophile audience is also French speaking. In particular, in A night in Paris, we loved her summary of Yves Montand’s “LaBicyclette” especially when her Australian side shone through (and we love her even more for that). It’s about “4 blokes with a crush on one girl”. It also shows just how down to Earth Louise i. She is refined but she also knows how to build rapport with her audience.


We are used to seeing Louise perform at Nexus Arts, so when we saw that she was going to do a show in a church, we were very interested to see how it would be different to her other shows. In these other shows, we are more used to cabaret seating. Here, being in rows, seated one behind another was a change.


Unfortunately, there were some sound issues. Sometimes when Louise spoke between songs it was very difficult to understand what she was saying. Her voice was being muffled. It’s sad because her explanations of the songs and of their singers are always interesting and sometimes amusing.


It’s rare these days to see a show with a full ensemble. It’s always a pleasure to see Louise Blackwell & The French Set. And A night in Paris was loved by all. Everyone in the church had their eyes firmly fixed on them. Louise Blackwell & The French Set won the Fringe Weekly Award for Music last year and I think it is highly possible that they will win it again this year.


I also wanted to express my condolences to Louise Blackwell and all of her family. Her brother Paul Blackwell, well-known in Australian theatre circles passed away on the morning of the show. We would have all understood if Louise had chosen to cancel the show given these circumstances. Her performance was even more impressive given these events.


Louise Blackwell & The French Set are a group you must see. Sometimes they play throughout the year and we strongly recommend that you purchase tickets. You won’t regret it!




Matilda Marseillaise was a guest of Adelaide Fringe


A night in Paris has three more performances at the Adelaide Fringe – this Tuesday and Wednesday 26 and 27 at Stirling Fringe and this Thursday 28 February at Nexus Arts, where we are used to seeing them perform. Unfortunately for you  though, these shows are already sold out. You will have to get your tickets early next time around.


However, you can see their other show at the Gilbert Street Hotel on 8 March. They will play twice that evening. There are still tickets available for their second show of the night at 9:30pm. Tickets cost $27.50 plus any booking fees. You can purchase your tickets here.


You can also read our article with 22 must-see shows at Adelaide Fringe here.