The brightest musical star of the postwar years in France, whose output frittered away into embarrassing imitations of himself after he had produced some of the happiest Parisian scores of the 1950s.
Trained as a dentist, Lopez had his first musical successes as a part-time songwriter before turning to the theatre for the first time in 1945. His initial opérette, La Belle de Cadix, a colourful, vivacious piece hastily written to play six weeks at the small Casino-Montparnasse, ran for two years and provided the French musical theatre with the same kind of new acceleration that Oklahoma! had recently provided in America. Lopez and his librettist/lyricist Raymond Vincy followed up with a series of like pieces for larger Parisian stages over the next decade, pieces which, like Oklahoma!, returned to the classic romantic operettic proportions in a deft textual and musical mixture of the sentimental and the comic set in the most colourful of venues (Andalousie, Pour Don Carlos, Le Chanteur de Mexico, À la Jamaïque, La Toison d’or, Méditerranée). Unlike their American counterparts, however, the pair also worked simultaneously on a number of more intimate comedy musicals such as Quatre Jours à Paris and La Route fleurie which were mounted at smaller venues with success equal to that won by their bigger shows, thus allowing Vincy and Lopez to dominate the postwar musical theatre large and small.
After Vincy’s death, Lopez continued writing ostensibly the same kind of pieces, to mostly much less able texts, supplying a series of often long-running if very obvious opérettes à grand spectacle to the large stage of Paris’s Théâtre du Châtelet and only occasionally, as in Viva Napoli (1970), finding again the hearty freshness of his earlier work.
Familiar strains set to what became thin and painfully predictable libretti and feeble orchestrations became the order of the day in the 1980s as Lopez became his own producer at, successively, the Théâtre de la Renaissance, the Élysée Montmartre and the Eldorado, producing scrappily written and staged shows in which his then wife, Anya, and son, Rodrigo, often took a hand. Madame Lopez and her son were credited with the score for La Perle des Antilles (Théâtre de la Renaissance 17 February 1979) (nevertheless billed as `opérette de Francis Lopez’), and the younger Lopez also composed the music for his father’s production of Aventure à Tahiti (1988).
Whilst Lopez’s more recent shows, and intermittent revivals of his earlier ones, played to their particular audience at his Parisian base, contributing no little to the falling reputation and image of `opérette’ amongst the French younger generation, the provincial theatres of France continued to welcome productions of his earlier works, and even at the turn of the 21st century no season passes in the French theatre without numerous revivals of his best (and, occasionally, also his less good) musicals being seen in all corners of the hexagon.
Unsophisticated though it may often be, the rhythmic, sentimental and immensely singable music of his earliest opérettes is in the happiest tradition of popular light musical theatre, and his best scores remain as admirable as the last are inane.
When these are attached to the best of Vincy’s texts (Quatre Jours à Paris, Andalousie) they make up into delightful theatre pieces.
Several of Lopez’s early opérettes were made into films (La Belle de Cadix, Andalousie, Quatre Jours à Paris, Le Chanteur de Mexico, À la Jamaïque), and the composer also supplied songs and scores for a good number of musical films of the 1940s and 1950s, including Je n’aime que toi, L’Aventurier de Séville, Sérénade au Texas and the musical film remake of Violettes imperiales, composed for the theatre by Vincent Scotto.
A 1987 autobiography concentrated more on the composer’s career as a ladykiller than on his work for the theatre.
1945 La Belle de Cadix (Maurice Vandair/Raymond Vincy, Marc-Cab) Casino Montparnasse 24 December
1947 Andalousie (Vincy, Albert Willemetz) Théâtre de la Gaîté-Lyrique 25 October
1948 Quatre Jours à Paris (Vincy) Théâtre Bobino 28 February
1949 Monsieur Bourgogne (Vincy, Jean-Jacques Vital) Théâtre Bobino 12 March
1950 Pour Don Carlos (Vincy, André Mouëzy-Éon) Théâtre du Châtelet 17 December
1951 Le Chanteur de Mexico (Henri Wernert/Vincy, Félix Gandéra) Théâtre du Châtelet 15 December
1952 La Route fleurie (Vincy) Théâtre de l’ABC 19 December
1953 Soleil de Paris (Vincy) Théâtre Bobino 7 March
1954 À la Jamaïque (Vincy) Théâtre de la Porte Saint-Martin 24 January
1954 La Toison d’or (Vincy) Théâtre du Châtelet 18 December
1955 Méditerranée (Vincy) Théâtre du Châtelet 17 December
1956 El Aguila de fuego (Arturo Rigel, Francisco Ramos de Castro) Teatro Maravillas, Madrid 19 January
1957 Tête de linotte (Vincy) Théâtre de l’ABC 14 December
1957 Maria-Flora (w Henri Betti/Vincy) Théâtre du Châtelet 18 December
1957 La Cancion del amor mio (M Brocey, A Quintero, Arozamena) Madrid December
1958 S E la Embajadora (Rigel, Jesus M de Arozamena) Teatro Alcazar, Madrid 21 November
1959 Le Secret de Marco Polo (Vincy) Théâtre du Châtelet 12 December
1960 Dix millions cash! revised Monsieur BourgogneThéâtre de la Porte Saint-Martin 10 December
1961 Visa pour l’amour (Vincy) Théâtre de la Gaîté-Lyrique 22 December
1963 Cristobal le Magnifique (Vincy) Théâtre de l’Européen 21 December
1963 Le Temps des guitares (Vincy, Marc-Cab) Théâtre de l’ABC 28 October
1967 Le Prince de Madrid (Jacques Plante/Vincy) Théâtre du Châtelet 4 March
1969 La Caravelle d’or (Plante/Jean Valmy) Théâtre du Châtelet 19 December
1969 Viva Napoli (Daniel Ringold/René Jolivet) Lille, 20 December, Théâtre Mogador 4 September
1971 Restons françaises (w Anja Lopez/R Barbe) Théâtre des Capucines 24 December
1972 Gipsy (Ringold/Claude Dufresne) Théâtre du Châtelet 18 December
1974 Les Trois Mousquetaires (w Anja Lopez/Ringold/Jolivet) Théâtre du Châtelet 23 February
1975 Fiesta (Dufresne) Théâtre Mogador 23 February
1976 Volga (Plante, Ringold/Dufresne) Théâtre du Châtelet 26 November
1980 Viva Mexico revised Fiesta (Plante, Ringold/Dufresne) Théâtre de la Renaissance 22 February
1981 Aventure à Monte-Carlo (Ringold/Dufresne) Théâtre de la Renaissance 14 March
1981 Soleil d’Espagne (Ringold/Dufresne) Théâtre de la Renaissance 3 October
1981 La Fête en Camargue (Ringold/Dufresne) Théâtre de Saint-Etienne 3 December
1982 Le Vagabond tzigane (Ringold/Dufresne, Fernand Cayol) Théâtre de la Renaissance 2 October
1982 Vacances au soleil (Ringold/Dufresne, Cayol) Théâtre de Besancon 4 December
1983 L’Amour à Tahiti (Ringold/Dufresne) Théâtre de l’Élysée-Montmartre 1 October
1984 Les Mille et une nuits (Ringold/Dufresne) Théâtre de l’Élysée-Montmartre 6 October
1985 Carnaval aux Caraïbes (w Rodrigo Lopez/Ringold/Dufresne) Théâtre de l’Élysée-Montmartre 27 September
1986 Le Roi du Pacifique (Ringold/Dufresne) Théâtre de l’Élysée-Montmartre 24 September
1987 Fandango (Ringold/Dufresne) Théâtre de l’Élysée-Montmartre 16 January
1988 Rêve de Vienne (Ringold/Dufresne) Théâtre de l’Eldorado 30 September
1989 La Marseillaise (Ringold/Dufresne) Théâtre de l’Eldorado 7 July
1989 La Belle Otéro (Ringold/Dufresne) Théâtre de l’Eldorado 30 September
1990 Portorico (Ringold/Dufresne) Théâtre de l’Eldorado 30 September
1991 Sissi (w R Lopez/Ringold/Dufresne, Nadine de Rotschild) Théâtre de l’Eldorado 8 September
1992 Mariane mes amours revised La Marseillaise Théâtre de l’Eldorado 26 September
1993 Les Belles et le gitan (w R Lopez/Ringold/Dufresne) Théâtre de l’Eldorado 9 October
Autobiography: Flamenco: la gloire et les larmes (Presses de la Cité, Paris, 1987)