La Révolution Française was the first ever French rock opera. It was inspired by Alain’s visit to the New York première of Jesus Christ Superstar. He found it an overwhelming experience, to see pop music being used to tell the story of a young historical figure in this way. He couldn’t sleep until he’d found a subject he could work on and as the sun rose the idea dawned: it had to be – the French revolution.
Alain and Claude-Michel started working straightaway on a concept album, doing the basic structure in one afternoon. There were 24 sequences telling the most important events of the French Revolution and adding an intimate story about the love of a young man for an aristocratic young lady. Raymond Jeannot worked with Claude-Michel on the music and Jean-Max Rivière worked with Alain on the lyrics. The concept album was a great success and sales rocketed after a six-minute dramatic extract was presented on Saturday night television. It quickly went ‘Gold’ and one of the songs ‘Chouans en avant!’ became a number one hit. It told the story of people in the West of France resisting the French Revolution – a rather strange subject for a hit song!
It was decided to turn it into a stage show and it was then necessary to write the linking songs. So it was a very different dramatization process from their later musicals. It opened at the Palais Des Sports in Paris on 2 October 1973 and it was an enormous success, with people queuing round the block for tickets. Claude-Michel took on the role of Louis XVI – but it was the first and last time he has appeared in one of his shows. He enjoyed the rehearsals and the first three nights but after that he got bored!
At the launch of The Musical World of Boublil and Schönberg at Waterstone’s, Piccadilly on 26 June 2007, Marie Zamora (Alain’s wife) sung one of the most beautiful songs from the show, “Au Petit Matin”. It’s Marie Antoinette’s song and tells heartrendingly of her sadness at leaving her children as she goes to the guillotine. This live rendition held us all spellbound.
La Révolution Française is available on CD from First Night Records