Carla Bruni was more than a privileged hobbyist at the Orpheum Theatre

Carla Bruni was more than a privileged hobbyist at the Orpheum Theatre
Former French First Lady Carla Bruni performs Wednesday night at the Orpheum Theatre. (Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

Six years after moving out of France's Élysée Palace, Carla Bruni may find that her needs are no longer met as quickly as they used to be.

But that's not to say this former first lady now waits like a lowly civilian.


On Wednesday night, the pop singer and fashion model married to former French President Nicolas Sarkozy (who left office in 2012) was partway through a concert at the Orpheum Theatre when she told the audience she "would love to have a little beer" before singing a rendition of the Clash's song "Jimmy Jazz."

"I'm sure they had a lot of beer when they wrote it," she said of the rowdy punk band.

Two songs later, voilà: A fan shuffled down the center aisle and placed a drink on the lip of the stage; Bruni, dressed in black leather pants and a chic blazer, crouched and took a gracious if unsurprised sip.

There's something similarly what-madame-wants about Bruni's latest album, "French Touch." Released last fall, after years she spent writing and recording her own tunes in French, it features covers of 11 English-language songs as far flung as "Moon River" and AC/DC's "Highway to Hell"; Willie Nelson even shows up for a duet on his "Crazy."

Bruni made the record with David Foster, the great schlock-pop impresario — and ex-husband of "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills" star Yolanda Hadid — beloved by singers for his lush and flattering production style. (Foster was in the house Wednesday along with Sarkozy and, because why not, Duff McKagan of Guns N' Roses.)

Yet Bruni's performance at the Orpheum, where she sang everything from "French Touch," wasn't merely an exercise in moneyed privilege.

The French singer performed songs by Willie Nelson and ABBA.
The French singer performed songs by Willie Nelson and ABBA. (Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

Backed by a crafty four-piece band, Bruni skillfully toyed with her phrasing in "Moon River," which she called "one of the most beautiful songs ever written." She remade the Rolling Stones' disco-era "Miss You" as a convincing Latin dance tune.

And she tapped into a deep well of empathy for "The Winner Takes It All," ABBA's dramatic ballad about a dejected but fatalistic lover.

Bruni introduced her breathy take on Depeche Mode's "Enjoy the Silence" by framing the song as a kind of much-needed respite. "In this world of noise," she said, "silence has become the new precious thing."

Elsewhere, though, she seemed eager to take up the complicated issues that contribute to that noise — albeit free of the clearly defined position expected of her during her time in politics.

Bruni sang "Stand by Your Man," for instance, in a sly deadpan that let you know she'd thought hard about Tammy Wynette's late-'60s lyric; the result felt like a feminist reclamation of the song by a woman who's been publicly defined as often as not by her relationships with powerful men (including Sarkozy, Eric Clapton and, although Bruni has sternly denied it, Donald Trump).

But then there was her coy reading of "Please Don't Kiss Me," famously sung by Rita Hayworth in "The Lady from Shanghai," which Bruni prefaced with a comment seemingly at odds with the #MeToo movement: "I know for sure — for sure — it means the opposite" of its title.

The polished arrangement may have suggested a plutocrat's hobby. But in her embrace of contradiction, Bruni was working toward something like art.


Twitter: @mikaelwood