Admired female icons with a dark side. Fonogram prize awarded jazz singer Gabi Szűcs investigates in her concert La femme fatale in the Müpa what is really like to be labelled like that as an artist or celebrity. Are these women better lovers than wives, or is it only a stereotype? Are they in fact average women? The concert includes diary entries by and recollections about female artists, too. We can learn how Marlene Dietrich felt about being seen as a femme fatale, or what contemporaries said about Marilyn Monroe. Latter didn’t keep a diary but wrote many poems. Therefore, this is a real all-art “girls night out” with actress Eszter Ónodi as a guest. We asked Gabi Szűcs about the concert.
Why did you choose the topic of the femme fatale?
I have planned for ages to put together something about this topic for a concert. I noticed that in my genre, swing, and especially in its ‘classical’ period (‘30s to ‘50s), the dangerous femme fatale is a recurring figure. Not only in the lyrics actually, but in the pop culture of that era in general. Just like others, I got attracted by this, as no matter how ‘dark’ these women are depicted, people admire them, too. In the past I sang covers to Marlene Dietrich’s, Marilyn Monroe’s and Hungarian Katalin Karády’s songs. I did my research and realised which songs fit the best to the topic. I chose some female figures, like the ones mentioned above, and we tell some exciting facts about them during the evening.
Getting to know these women’s life, do you consider them special, too?
In fact, they were just average women. What is in common is that they were all unhappy. They failed to keep a distinct line between their professional image and their private life, they couldn’t become happy and fulfilled married women. They paid a huge price for their successes: loneliness. Those of them who lived until an old age lived alone for a very long time. They were trapped in the stereotypical role of the femme fatale, some of them never dared to quit it, because it also meant their fame and image. Some of them hid away from the public when getting old: they didn’t want to destroy their youthful image.
Femme fatales tried to fill many roles in their lives, and this is exactly how you live, too. Did it also contribute to your connection to the topic?
I connect to them in relation to how I seek my way. And I also realised during the concert preparation that I learned a lot from the femme fatales what price one pays for a career and when one should say no. I consciously decided that I prefer balance between professional and private life, and I wouldn’t do many of the things these women did just to be successful. But for me and many other female performers, their performative personalities is an important source, with all their behaviours and mysticism. I like it a lot how they respected the stage and the cinema with their looks and actions. One can also learn from them how to bring sexuality on stage. Because it’s no question that we need to seduce the audience.
What songs will you sing?
Some Hungarian ones, but the majority will be in English. Film music from Gershwin to Cole Porter. It will be an entertaining type of concert.
Who are your partners for the concert?
My band, the Gabi Szűcs Quintet, consists of great Hungarian jazz musicians. I started to play with them in the Cotton Club Singers ages ago. Müpa asked for a complex concert, so I involved Eszter Ónodi in the creation process. We have worked together before, I know how well she sings, and I also love her personality. She fits so well to the femme fatale topic! We will engage in a discussion about the evoked great women of the past, so it’s not only a concert.
Have you also checked other art forms, like literature?
Yes, I read a lot. After a while I needed to stop, because I could have created a whole literature evening from this material, but that would have been a disadvantage to the musical side. I haven’t only read about female artists but many other socialites of the era in question. But the circle couldn’t be too wide, otherwise it would have taken the focus away from the song.
Do you think there are femme fatales today, too?
Yes, I also know some. But times changed a lot. Nowadays, no actress, however popular she is, could forget her child on another continent. That could happen without consequences in the ‘30s. But women who woo men and destroy marriages or relationships are present today, too. Others believe they have some cruel fun. But no, they are also looking for happiness, and have much more difficulties finding it. Nowadays, these women aren’t typically artists anymore. I would call them seekers of happiness, and I feel a bit sorry for them. They just don’t find what they really desire.
How would you recommend the concert?
It will be the entertaining side of jazz with a lot of trivia about women. Eszter Ónodi and myself play a bit of the diva during that. You can hear a lot of great hits, which will be a good choice for both hardcore jazz fans and those who come for the vintage feeling and the old film music.
Article: Anna Rácz
Translation: Zsófia Hacsek