Charles Aznavour opened at the Lunt-Fontanne Theater last night with undiminished passion and artistry. He is, as we have known for many years, not a dashing boulevardier but a man of the streets who sings with fervor about great love, false friends, lingering sorrow and memories that outlast relationships. Because he writes his own music and lyrics, he is a poet as well as a performer - and he is definably French.
During his two-hour, one-man show, he moves freely between French and English. Before he sings in his native language, he tells us the story in case we might not remember the refrain. But in French or even without words, the feeling is recognizable. The lyrics often trace a path of familiar sentiment. Lovers are safe in each other's arms. The rejected will rise to fight another day. And one lives a life as if it might end tomorrow.
However, in Mr. Aznavour's music and lyrics, and with his voice and presence, the lines become lyrical. For the audience, it is a vibrant performance and also a memory of a more innocent and romantic time. As an acting singer, he carries with him a history of his own life - back to his relationship and his musical kinship with Edith Piaf - and of a popular music that is memorable.
In the lyrics, there is, of course, a line of sadness. Often the lovers he sings about are at least momentarily abandoned or bereft. For them, tomorrow has arrived. But he continues to look ahead, past wedding anniversaries and other milestones, still confident about the future. Fidelity and hope are keys to his character's survival. With Mr. Aznavour, the seemingly slight becomes significant. A whisper can seem like an embrace and always there is the promise of ''love's intoxication.''
It has been 13 years since I last saw Mr. Aznavour on Broadway. In the intervening time, his hair has become flecked with gray and his face now bears more of the lines of age. As one might expect from such a confirmed romantic, he has not mellowed. His voice is as strong as his conviction. And that conviction can carry him to apparently distant countries, away from the cafes to the docks, to the story of the actor's life, to a sympathetic discussion of ''What Makes a Man'' and back to his solitary room. He ends his show with his classic ''Yesterday When I Was Young.'' What was once a performance has now moved closer to reality. As he sings his chanson, the words take on a deeper meaning.
His Broadway show, scheduled for two weeks, is cleanly designed: Mr. Aznavour dressed in black, hands in pockets or holding a microphone; a fine orchestra led by Aldo Frank at the piano and featuring Grady Tate on the drums and Bob Cranshaw on the bass; a backup trio of singers; with a minimum of elaboration. He manages to make the evening seem informal, although it is an artfully executed show. Watching Mr. Aznavour, I was reminded not only of Piaf but of Lena Horne, the last previous singer to stand on a Broadway stage and completely justify a star's magnitude.