Obituary: Francis Lopez

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Francis Lopez, composer: born Montbliard, France 1916; married four times; died 4 January 1995.

Visitors to Paris in the 1950s with a taste for lavish musicals set in exotic locations made their way to the Thtre du Chtelet, where the latest work by Francis Lopez was likely to be playing. The visitor might have enjoyed Le Chanteur du Mexico or La Toison d'or, or Mditerrane - or possibly a revival of La Belle de Cadix, a show originally expected to run for only a few weeks, but which held the stage for more than three years and was subsequently filmed, as were several other of Lopez's musicals. Lopez not only composed theatrical scores, but also wrote a great many songs, which artists of the calibre of Tino Rossi and Maurice Chevalier were happy to include in their programmes. The songs, like the musicals, had one thing in common: they were extremely and memorably tuneful.

Francis Lopez was born at Montbliard (Doubs) in East France. He trained as a dentist, becoming a part-time songwriter. His first musical, La Belle de Cadix, was staged at the tiny Casino Montparnasse in December 1945. Intended as a stop-gap when an Edith Piaf show was cancelled, La Belle eventually clocked up 1,500 performances. It set the style for many of Lopez's later musicals, with its colourful Spanish location, a film-star hero, sung by the popular tenor Luis Mariano, and a book that mixed romance and comedy in equal measure. It also inaugurated a fruitful collaboration between Lopez and his regular librettist, Raymond Vincy.

The next Lopez/Vincy musical, Andalousie, was staged at the Gaiet-Lyrique in 1947. Again set in Spain and starring Mariano, it ran for 12 months and was later filmed. The following year came Quatre Jours Paris at the Thtre Bobino, another great success. With probably the best libretto written by Vincy for Lopez, this was a show on a rather smaller scale than usual, with a greater proportion of comedy in the text. The heroine's adventures during four days in Paris are worthy of a Feydeau farce. Two less noteworthy pieces followed, then in 1951 Le Chanteur du Mexico scored a huge success, filling the Chtelet for another long run. This time Mariano played a would-be singer who is engaged to tour Mexico, where he becomes involved with the rebel Zapata.

The following year La Route fleuri, one of Lopez's smaller-scale musicals, was staged at the Thtre de l'ABC. Starring the romantic tenor Georges Gutary as a penniless Montmartre composer, it ran for three and a half years, keeping up its tremendous popularity even after Gutary left the cast. In A la Jamaique (1952), Annie, a butcher, inherits a chain of American snack-bars. Though engaged 18 times, Annie cannot find a husband as romantic as her favourite novelist's heroes, so she marries the novelist himself.

In La Toison d'or at the Chtelet in 1954, the Golden Fleece of the title is oil in a Middle Eastern country, where the hero Stanislaus blows up a burning oil-well. This was succeeded by Mditerrane. It ran for nearly 600 performances and was filmed. During the late Fifties Lopez wrote three musicals to Spanish texts which were produced with some success in Madrid.

Back in Paris Lopez continued to provide an annual show for nearly another 30 years, but after the death of Raymond Vincy - his last libretto for Lopez was Le Temps des Guitares at the ABC in 1963 - their quality began to deteriorate. Times and tastes also began to change, though Lopez remained immensely popular in provincial France. Indeed, during January and February this year, Calais, Dijon, Firminy, Mrignac and Toulon have performed either La Belle de Cadix or Mditerrane, while Rheims has Quatre Jours Paris lined up. In 1987 Lopez published an autobiography, Flamenco: le gloire et les larmes. To encapsulate and understand the charm of a Lopez melody, listen to a recording of Tino Rossi singing "Les filles d'Ajaccio" from Mditerrane.