Wednesday 17 February 2016

do you hear the people sing?

The real show-stopper in this my choir's repertoire this season is a medley of songs from Les Mis.  They've sung it before, and when we had a vote on the songs to be included in the "best of the first five years" season in the summer, this was the number one choice.  It wasn't included in the end because we couldn't get the rights to record it onto the CD we made in Scarborough, but it's probably the most popular number in the history of the choir.... it lasts a whole fifteen minutes, for goodness sake, so it's not exactly an easy sing.

Les Mis?  Meh.

I'm not familiar with the musical and I don't know any of the songs.  I know it's based on a classic of French literature, and I have dim memories of watching a film version starring Anthony Perkins, but the musical is something that I'm just not interested in.

Imagine my surprise then, when after only a couple of weeks of rehearsals, the only songs that were stuck in my head for the rest of the week were songs from the medley: "Look Down", "I Dreamed a Dream", "The Th√©nardier Waltz of Treachery", "One Day More".... I'd never heard them performed anywhere, but the process of learning how to sing them was embedding them in my head.  I was curious enough to look up the novel and to learn that it's *not* set around the French Revolution, but starts in 1815 after the fall of Napoleon and the restoration of the monarchy.  Huh.  I was told that watching the songs in context would really help me to 'get' them, but I seemed to be doing alright....

... and then curiosity got the better of me, and last weekend, I downloaded and watched the 2012 film starring Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway and Russell Crowe.

My verdict?  Meh.

Don't get me wrong: it's a powerful story and those songs have a real emotional heft.  Hathaway's Fantine in particular is superb.  Russell Crowe was a controversial choice for Javert, and there was much comment about his singing, but I thought he was a good choice and that his singing was fine.  Not as good as someone like Hathaway, but it was good enough and his general bearing was perfect for the role.

...but this brings me to my main problem with it: it's 2 hours and 38 minutes long and the fact that everything is sung quickly became quite wearing.  The main set-pieces were superb, right enough, but there's not a single piece of proper dialogue in the whole damn film.  I started to imagine Jean Valjean and Cosette coming down to breakfast and having an entirely sung exchange about passing the jam, please.  It's ridiculous.  Well, not to my taste, anyway.  Neither was Eddie Redmayne's singing voice, but that might just be me.  Surely I wasn't alone in cheering when that irritating little brat (Gavroche) bit the bullet?  Also, is anyone really surprised that Valjean dies shortly after crawling through the Paris sewers? Marius should probably consider himself lucky that he didn't get some kind of hideous infection in his wounds (as well as the fact that his grandfather appears to be quite so forgiving).

So. Yes.  An interesting way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

It *is* a good sing, though.  Although I have started singing normal conversation now, which is fine at home, but a little annoying in the office.

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