Saturday, December 18, 2010

My Musical Year 2010

Maybe - as is the truth with most of this blog's content, I guess - I'm the only one actually interested in this. I'm just putting these up because I've figured out there might be someone out there who'd like to read this, and for that person I shan't keep a private musical diary but blast it all in the internet...
So. I'd like to list the shows I've seen this year, just for the sake of listing them.

I left for a holiday to NYC, and of course saw a couple of Broadway musicals:
In The Heights
- Did not like. Jet lag, maybe, but I don't think I would've really enjoyed this, no matter how awake. Some set changes at least, please, and maybe, well, some more interesting music...
A Little Night Music
- Thanks to jet lag, I hardly understood any of this. But buying the CD, I've grown to really like this show. Can't wait to see the Finnish version next year! And hey, I saw Angela Lansbury live. Nice.
- Simply put, great.
West Side Story
- Again, great. I love the cast recording!

Mary Poppins in Helsinki City Theatre
- I've never left any theatre smiling as widely as this time. Silly, cheesy and really, really good!

Titanic in Ypäjä Music Theatre. Closing night!
- Good production. Actually, awesome production, remembering it's an amateur theatre. Boring musical though. Titanic is one of the biggest disasters out there, and that's all the horror, chaos and feeling you can squeeze out of it?
Wicked in Helsinki City Theatre. Premiere!
- A nice show. The production maybe lacks something (well, at least sense at some points), but almost all actors are just amazing.

Chicago in Tampereen Työväen Teatteri.
- Maybe the worst show I've seen the whole year. I'd rather put the DVD in the player and watch it instead of paying a lot of money seeing something that tries to be an exact copy of the movie...

Les Misérables in Turku Swedish Theatre.
- In short, because I'm certain my lenghty review tires even the biggest fan out there: amazing.
Rebecca in Kouvola City Theatre.
- Very good. Actually surprisingly good for such a small theatre. I liked this a lot!

Les Misérables in Turku Swedish Theatre. Again.
- Even more amazing than the previous time. Marks the eleventh and final musical for me this year.

Going to see in 2011...
La Boheme, Finnish National Opera (oh well, it's an opera, but it's close enough)
Next to Normal, Helsinki City Theatre
West Side Story, Pyynikkisali in Tampere
Les Misérables, Turku Swedish Theatre. Again!
A Little Night Music, Turku City Theatre
and also, though I haven't bought the tickets yet...
Wicked, Helsinki City Theatre, again
RENT, Vaahterasali, Lahti (note to self: tickets can be bought from 1.1.2011. Get the best seats!)
Tanz der Vampire, Seinäjoki City Theatre

Friday, December 17, 2010

Les Mis Album Comparison III

Both a Thénardier-off and putting some Javerts into order today!

Master of the House
London 1985
Alun Armstrong as Thénardier, Sue Jane Tanner as Mme T.
The instrumentals start pretty meekly. Armstong's okay to listen to, and the costumers' voices in the background add some live feeling into the recording. The whole thing lacks a little speed, though - the chorus is big and loud, but the tempo of the whole song is a little slow.
Is that Patti LuPone laughing just before Mme Thénardier's part? It sounds just like her on the Sweeney Todd 2005 CD...
Tanner isn't bad neither, you could imagine Mme Thénardier sounding like this. Her "don't make me laugh" is a bit too exaggerated for my taste, though.
A good "standard" version of the song - nothing especially bad, if not so much anything especially awesome, neither.
3 points

Vienna 1988
Franz Csencsits as Thénardier, Susanne Altschul as Mme T.

Little meek orchestra part gives fast way to the singing, accompanied with an echo-y horn. Csencsits is nice to listen to too, and his voice has some emotion going, changing between excited, nice and evil-sounding.
The chorus sounds a little muddy, maybe some bad mixing.
Csencsits' "liver of a cat" and so forth sounds a little whisper-y, like he's sharing a secret with the audience. But now it's chorus time again, and to me this sounds like someone has put a huge lot of people into a tiny room and their voice doesn't quite fit in...
Altschul sounds pretty bitter and mocking, and her audience is heard symphatising with screams and laughter. Her performance is great, the final part almost made me laugh.
4 points

Paris 1991
Laurent Gendron as Thénardier, Marie-France Roussel as Mme T.
Gendron sounds okay too, but he's not as nice to listen to as some - I know it's a role where acting means more, but in a CD comparison... A little bit meaner than the previous ones, I'd say. The orchestration's pretty small, and somehow leaves me wishing for more. The chorus sounds pretty good, though.
Gendron seems to keep this "I'm mean and you can't trust me" tone going on for the whole song...
Multiple "shhh"s before Mme T. enters. She's not bad either, but I've heard better.
2 points

Danish 1992
Per Pallesen as Thénardier, Maria Stenz as Mme T.
Afraid already...
This begins bigger, with the little tune familiar from 10th Ann. concert and with the part with Thénardier and customers talking before the actual song beginning. What's the point of even recording this, especially if you don't record one of your main character's biggest songs? And it seems this part keeps going on forever... Pallesen has a pretty Thénardier-sounding voice from the first minute, though, at least in my opinion.
Ahh, to the real song! Haha, Pallesen is great, laughing meanly in between the lyrics! Just listening to him makes me smile, and I bet he did great justice to his part as the comic relief! And the chorus has such energy I almost feel like dancing!
I like how someone goes "shh" to silence the customers before Mme T. starts. And after she has sung her first line ("I used to dream that I would meet a prince...") Thénardier is heard going "awww", pretty much like saying "you got to be kidding me...", and he keeps saying "mm-hmm" to everything his wife accuses him of, just as to annoy her even more - before it gets to the "not much there" part, where his reaction sounds more like "hey, that was personal!" I actually laughed out loud.
This is awesome. And Stenz sounds very good for the role, too!
Danish Les Mis cast recording, congratulate yourself already. Whatever lies ahead, I think you've pretty much assured the seven points are yours.
7 points - told you so.

10th Ann. 1995
Alun Armstrong as Thénardier, Jenny Galloway as Mme T.
A bigger beginning, orchestra-wise, and a better beginning, Thénardier-wise, from the London CD where Armstrong also sings the song. I think he's gotten a lot better during the ten years between the recordings. In the beginning he sounds like a nice guy going out about how honest he is and such...
The chorus and the huge orchestra, as usual, sound great and make justice to this song.
Especially with this case, though, you remember that visuals are more than a half of this song - just remembering how hilarious Armstrong's performance on the DVD is makes me want to give him more points, even though you can't really hear it on the CD.
I love how audience gets wild just seeing Mme T. And Galloway is great, the best of the Mme Ts so far. Especially the "not much there" part, which she whispers. No wonder everybody's laughing! And I love how the audience just explodes into cheers at the end!
6 points

Dutch 2008
Carlo Boszhard as Thénardier, Marjolein Algera as Mme T.
No preludes here, but a nice big orchestration going on in the background or Boszhard, whose hoarse but pretty nice voice fits the character and whose energy is audible on the CD. He also laughs between some of the verses, which always makes me smile. And the chorus is not bad either.
Something about this song tells me Boszhard was just great to see live!
Mme T. enters, starts with a soft voice and changes her tone to make her audience laugh, getting louder as the song goes. Not bad at all! The final chorus sounds especially good.
5 points

Live! 2010
Ashley Artus as Thénardier, Lynne Wilmot as Mme T.
This is another of those CDs that have kept the conversation in the beginning of the song. I bet it's shorter than on the Danish CD, though, which is good.
Artus is somehow the Thénardier that's the hardest to listen to, his voice's too hoarse. Of course, the acting matters more, but again, this is a CD comparison... He has a funny accent, though, and this must be the happiest batch of customers laughing in the background... Even though the chorus sounds a bit messy, like someone's singing to a bit different beat and there's a little too much talk in the background. Wait, what, did I just hear someone throwing up? It sounded just like that, eww...
The live really comes through here, with the sounds from the props and whatnot. The orchestration's good, but that much background noise can distract you...
Enter Mme T. Wilmot isn't as big pain to listen to as Artus, but she's not the best either. A little too much screaming.
1 point

London 1985
Roger Allam as Javert.
The beginning has more violins than I remembered. And Allam has a gorgeous voice, very Javert-ish. Shivers are almost running down my spine.
And I think the calm, lovely orchestration does the song great justice. It gets big when it has to and keeps quiet when required, and sounds beautiful all the way.
The ending's a bit different than on the other CDs, he doesn't swear anything by any stars but just ends with "keeping watch in the night." I talked about this in deviantART with a friend, and I sort of agree with her - this ending fits the character better. But I still miss the big note.
It might get better than this, but not really much!
6.5 points

Vienna 1988
Norbert Lamla as Javert.
Not a bad beginning, even though I miss the violins from the previous CD. Lamla has a great voice too, but the orchestra almost overpowers him at some points - but then it gets back to quiet in such a lovely little translation I can't help adoring the instrumentals of this track. Even though that drum-thing is too much.
Lamla's good, but not as good as some. Still, if I had seen this live I surely wouldn't feel disappointed.
Hmm, a very mixed orchestration here...
4 points

Paris 1991
Partick Rocca as Javert.
The orchestration stars beautifully and peacefully.
But Rocca has definitely too much vibrato for the role. So much the song is almost painful to listen to. Some is okay, but this amount... Um. He'd be very Javert-ish if he could keep a note vibrato-less for more than half of a second... And that odd emphasis on "l'enfer" is a little, well, odd to me.
1 point

Danish 1992
Claus Kofod as Javert.
This voice doesn't fit the image I've got of Javert. He sounds somehow too much, I don't know, Santa Claus-ish to be the almost unfeeling, strict inspector we know. And hey, please, CD people: don't make your singers compete against your orchestra! Try to find a balance, will you!
Not to say Kofod would be bad, no, he has a good voice. It's just a voice I don't think quite fits the character, at least my vision of him.
2 points

10th Ann. 1995
Philip Quast as Javert.
The beginning is just beautiful with the harp. And when the song begins... I love Quast's voice. Still, after countless times of listening to this song, it manages to amaze me. Sure, there's some vibrato here too, but not so much to make this uncomfortable to listen to, as is the case with Paris CD.
I'm a little torn apart here, though - I love, love Quast's voice, but somehow Allam's fits my mental image of Javert better. This'll be a hard choice...
6.5 points - Impossible to decide. Call me a loser, but I'm dividing the first place.

Dutch 2008
Wim van den Driessche as Javert.
I'm torn apart here too - I'm not quite sure if I like van den Driessche or not. Somehow I do, he sounds good... But somehow this just doesn't make me think of Javert. I like how the orchestra plays some darker, deeper tones on the later part of the song, though.
Even though I usually love listening to Dutch, I think something about this translation is a bit disruptive. Too much hard consonants or something makes especially the ending a little uneasy to listen to.
3 points

Live! 2010
Earl Carpenter as Javert. I guess I can't give this CD any more bonus points for having seen him live...
The beginning's strings are a bit too shrill to me. But then again, Carpenter's voice is pretty much the voice I imagine Javert would have, so that doesn't matter much.
I don't know whether to be amused, confused or just happy about the emphasis Carpenter puts on the word "order." But it's definitely disturbing that the instrumentals lack some warmth some others have. This seems like a very "cold" moment to me, when I think it should be the moment that conveys the audience Javert is not actually a bad guy...
The only CD to have Gavroche's part, by the way!
5 points

So, today's ranking looks like...
London 1985: 18 + 3 + 6.5 = 27.5
Vienna 1988: 9.5 + 4 + 4 = 17.5
Paris 1991: 13 + 2 + 1 = 16 
Denmark 1992: 6.5 + 7 + 2 = 15.5
10th Ann. 1995: 24 + 6 + 6.5 = 36.5
Dutch 2008: 22 + 5 + 3 = 30
Live! 2010: 19 + 1 + 5 = 25

And with bonus points (none given this round, though):
#1: 10th Ann. 1995: 36.5+
#2: Dutch 2008: 30+
#3: London 1985: 27.5+
#4: Live! 2010: 25++
#5: Vienna 1988: 17.5+
#6: Paris 1991: 16+
#7: Denmark 1992: 15.5---

Way to go, Denmark! You'll reach Paris soon!
And if you've wondered, four bonus points make one point and four minus points take one point away. I'll count them in the final post of this series.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Les Mis Album Comparison Part II

I Dreamed a Dream time. Eek!

I Dreamed a Dream
London 1985
Patti LuPone as Fantine.
The song has a lovely, sad, peaceful quality from the first moment.
LuPone sings really beautifully. The orchestrations back up nicely and softly. Oddly enough though, LuPone's voice sounds a little, just a little, hoarse during some of the higher notes in the first half of the song. Otherwise she sounds great. I like how the singing part gets bigger but the orchestra doesn't get over-the-top with it - it gets bigger but not too big. Lovely.
5 points

Vienna 1988
Begins a little more loudly than the previous one, and the instrumental has an odd little pause before Sona MacDonald starts singing. She sings pretty quietly and a little hoarsely at first, but gets lovely during the bigger notes. If this hasn't been such, now this gets completely subjective: I think I prefer LuPone's voice to MacDonald's.
Not to say MacDonald's bad, though - she's great too.
4 points

Paris 1991
Not any dramatic orchestration changes. If I know my French (which I do, really badly), it seems to me Fantine begins her song talking directly to God.
This Fantine, Louise Pitre, has a little more vibretto than the previous two, which I'm not that sure I like. But she's not bad neither - it'll be really difficult putting these women's performances into an order, because I think the ones so far have been almost as good, and because the orchestrations are pretty much the same they won't help me decide. Expect for maybe that this one has some more shrill string sounds.
3 points

Danish 1992
Ah, my most hated album so far! Ann-Mari Max Hansen, save the day, will you?
The same problem that everybody has on this CD seems to be present here too: the beginning of the singing part is almost too quiet.
Maybe Danish just isn't the ideal language to sing this in, since I think some of the moments sound odd... But it's not Hansen's fault - even though she mightn't be as good as (in my opinion of course) the previous three, she still sings very nicely. Maybe a little less vibrato would be sweet. Oh wait, did her voice just crack the tiniest bit...
The orchestrations go too big and Hansen's voice almost drowns for a moment. More evidence to suggest the mixing is this album's biggest problem.
2 points

10th Ann. 1995
Ruthie Henshall's turn to shine as Fantine. She has quite a different tone from everybody else so far, but not in a bad way - she sounds great and hits the big notes maybe the most nicely of the Fantines so far. I'm almost getting shivers here. The orchestra's very nice and big too, as espected.
And Henshall is the first one to sound really hurt, I think - in the end her voice is just oozing with bitterness.
Added claps in the end for added this-was-an-awesome-song feeling!
7 points

Dutch 2008
With a louder orchestra and Nurlaila Karim.
Again, time to listen to the lovely Dutch pronounciation, which is almost enough to get me into a good mood. Am I weird or what. But Karim sounds very lovely too, and I think she hits especially the low notes beautifully.
I'm running out of things to say here, because I think all the examples of I Dreamed a Dream have been pretty good so far (if you don't count the Danish mixing). Oh, now this gets big, louder than the ones before... Another very hurt-sounding Fantine. Great.
6 points

Live! 2010
No intro at all, a little minus for that. And an angry Fantine, Madalena Alberto.
This has a bit different feeling than the others - slightly more rushed, maybe, and definitely more angry. I'm not sure I like the change. The original sad, longing feeling is more to my liking. Also, weird emphasis on odd parts, like "autumn." The orchestration is almost too big, the silent sadness has been lost...
1 point

I'd love to rate Lovely Ladies, but the Danish one has helpfully removed that one too. But may I give some bonus points?
+ for seven days at sea to London 1985 and to 10th Ann. 1995.
+ for the creepiest laughing sailors ever to Vienna 1988.

Castle on a Cloud
You know what? No matter how good the girl singing is, I absolutely hate this song. I don't get how every CD has it, but I do think my ears might explode listening to it seven times in a row - and I know some of these kids even aren't that good.
Dear Danish CD, I almost want to give you a big fat minus just for actually including this song, but I don't think that would be quite fair.

London 1985
Zoe Hart can keep a tune, she sounds pretty much as good as this song gets.
7 points

Vienna 1988
Very clear orchestrations, not so good little Cosette - Leni Tanzer. She's a little hoarse, even though if she doesn't actually miss the notes, which I've also heard happening.
2 points

Paris 1991
This is, instead of a castle, about a doll in the shop-window. Just like the book, a plus for that! Aurelie Lebarbe ("Thebeard"?) isn't especially good, though. A little confusing how this ends in a mention of Père Noël, though - did he even exist yet?
+ for the lyrics referring to the book
2 points

Danish 1992
Back to the castle in the heavens above imaginary, and with a lot longer intro than usual. Yes, Danish CD! Take all out of the only song you should've cut, will you!
Rose Maria Kroner is maybe the worst yet - sorry. She sounds almost boy-like at points. Goodness, when will this be over...
2 points - two points for three little Cosettes, because thinking about it, these three are all equally bad.

10th Ann. 1995
Hannah Chick as little Cosette. She's one of the better ones, actually pretty nice to listen to. Points for this girl not messing the song when that odd bang happens in the background!
6 points

Dutch 2008
Tara Hetharia is, in a way, the best yet. A pretty voice and some energy to the singing. Okay, it's not canon. Cosette is a badly beaten little kid who probably feels exhausted from all that work, but somehow a little more energy makes the song nicer to listen to.
5 points

Live! 2010
Samara Clarke gets to finish this batch of sweetness. And is she sweet. She's the youngest-sounding, and somehow a little annoying.
4 points

So how's the ranking now?
London 1985: 6 + 5 + 7 = 18  
Vienna 1988: 3.5 + 4 + 2 = 9.5  
Paris 1991: 8 + 3 + 2 = 13  
Denmark 1992: 2.5 + 2 + 2 = 6.5
10th Ann. 1995: 11 + 7 + 6 = 24  
Dutch 2008: 11 + 6 + 5 = 22
Live! 2010: 14 + 1 + 4 = 19

And with bonus points it looks like...
#1: 10th Ann. 1995: 24+
#2: Dutch 2008: 22+
#3: Live! 2010: 19++
#4: London 1985: 18+
#5: Paris 1991: 13+
#6: Vienna 1988: 9.5+
#7: Denmark 1992: 6.5---

Denmark, are you even trying? Can't wait to see where this'll end!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Les Misérables Album Comparison Part I

Somehow it greatly amuses some of my friends that I own eight different recordings of Les Misérables and am always searching for more. It seems some of them simply can't understand the concept of having so many versions of the same songs, and mostly in languages I don't understand.
But to me, and I guess other fans too, the albums are so different! Each has its own unique feeling, its weak and strong points.
And because it seems I'm not already too busy with school, art and stuff, and because I know nothing about music terms whatsoever, I've decided to do a little comparison of seven of my albums: London 1985, Vienna 1988 (I guess, since the CD's my friend's and I burned it in a hurry lately, so I only wrote "Germany" on it), Paris 1991, Danmark 1992, Dream Cast in Concert 1995, Dutch 2008 and Live! 2010. Still trying to find a Swedish one! Let's see if listening the same song seven times in a row again and again and again finally cures me of this obsession...
I'm only going to include songs all of the albums have, and that's why I'm not rating anything from the concept album - too different. Some have almost the full score, but the Danish one, for example, only has 16 tracks. The songs will be given points from one to seven - seven to the best and one to the worst, of course. Besides that, the songs can get plus points for really awesome moments and minus for unexplained moments of horror, as can the whole albums.

Let's start from the very beginning!

Overture/Work Song/Prologue:
(to the point before Valjean's "and now I know how freedom feels...", because that's the most these CDs have in common)
London 1985
This version begins rather less dramatically than some others. The instrumental part of the beginning isn't as huge as it will be on some of the later recordings, and the convicts don't really sound that tough, neither - depressed would be a better word, though when we get to the solos there are more emotional moments, and these men have great voices.
The arrangements sound, to my uneducated ear, a little too electronic.
Roger Allam's Javert sounds very good from the first minute, as does Colm Wilkinson's Valjean. Javert's "no!" is surprisingly annoyed here, even to the point where it can make people giggle.
The tempo is a little slow, so some of Valjean's and Javert's conversation fails to sound like an actual discussion at some points.
No fadeout, just directly into Valjean's arrest scene.
3 stars

Vienna 1988
More dramatic than the London one from the first minute, with the grand notes nowadays associated with the beginning of Les Mis. Surprisingly short instrumental part and "humming" part, with a little angrier convicts.
But wait! No convict solos! Just directly from the "Look down! Look down!" part to Javert's first line! A big minus, Vienna, a big minus. Way to start this thing off.
An angry Javert (Norbert Lamla) with a great big "NEEEIN" yelled right on top of Valjean's (Reinhard Brussmann) line.
Thanks to Javert starting to say his lines almost before Valjean has stopped, this already sounds a lot more like conversation.
Fadeout with the convicts - oddly enough, you'd think they'd cut that out too.
1.5 stars

Paris 1991
A little less dramatic beginning than on the Wien CD, maybe the orchestra is a little smaller. There's an odd change of the track in the middle of Overture - I was quite surprised when I noticed I had left suffle on and it switched to West Side Story's Dance at the Gym in the middle...
These are some angry prisoners, singing "UH-HUH" angrily instead of some depressed humming! And the solos have a lot of emotions in them. Mostly anger. They one who we won't see there for dust when he gets free has a quite bit higher voice than the others.
Javert (Patrick Rocca) has quite a lot of vibrato going on. The tempo's quite good, and the song ends with the normal fadeout with the convicts.
4 stars

Denmark 1992
The instrumental beginning is a little bit grander than the Paris one. The convicts' voices have been mixed too down at the beginning, you can hardly hear their chorus - but since it gets louder. I guess someone tried to go for an artistic feeling here, failing.
Are these some meek convicts, by the way... Maybe they've been beat too harshly in the jail, but they're filled with much more quiet depression than even the London 1985 fellows, except for the last one, who at least tries to make some noise.
This Javert (Claus Kofod) has a little bit higher voice than the previous ones, and I remember that something about his "ej" made me laugh the first time I heard it. Danish sounds quite weird sung (or spoken, actually. But that's just my opinion). Especially the way Javert says is name. Ja-veirt.
Fadeout with the depressed convicts.
1.5 stars (sharing the last spot with Vienna. I can't decide which one is worse.)

10th Anniversary 1995
The beginning, after the clapping, is very grand with the huge orchestra, definitely the best-sounding yet. And these convicts have some feeling - even though it always amuses me when one of them accidentally continues to go "uh-huh" when the others switch to "look down" one verse earlier than usually.
Oo, dramatic drums!
Philip Quast as Javert, Colm Wilkinson as Valjean. Here it takes Javert the longest time to figure out it doesn't mean Valjean is free, maybe long enough to have a comedic effect the moment surely shouldn't have... Javert and Valjean parts have a little less feeling of actual conversation than some others, maybe, but they're pretty good.
5 stars

Dutch 2008
Almost as grand a beginning as the 10th Anniversary. And this has my favourite new bit of the score, a little extra: the short violin (or some instrument like that) tune on top of the Overture (can't explain better than "the one that goes du-du-du-du-du-du", sorry). Anyways, I always miss that when I don't hear it on the other ones!
These are some seriously angry convicts, too! I guess the Dutch language has some angry-sounding quality with all those strong consonants, so that helps a bit, but these guys aren't phlegmatic in any way!
Maybe out of all these languages, I enjoy listening to Dutch the most. And here, besides sounding cool, Valjean (René van Kooten) surprises: he's the first Valjean to answer really angrily to Javert (Wim van den Driessche)! Man, these guys here are mad, and the grand orchestration helps to get the point across. His name is Jean Valjean! Totally!
Fading out a little angrily.
+ for the awesome-sounding violin chord.
6 stars

Live! 2010
It adds to the mood to hear people scream when the first notes get played. And are these notes played big, I guess it just gets grander all the time. Huge drums and people yelling during the instrumental part! Some energy! The violin (expect I guess it's cello or something now) tune is there, but it's mixed pretty quiet.
Are these the angriest convicts yet? They just get madder and madder, I'd so look down if these guys told me to! The solos match the grandeur of the orchestration and the fastened tempo.
Earl Carpenter was the first Javert I saw! Oo, it's so great to have a CD with him! His "no" sounds a little, I don't know, "why I have to listen to these idiots every day"-ish. John Owen-Jones is quite angry-sounding as Valjean, but then again, he's against a pretty angry-sounding Javert.
A massive fadeout with angry drums and angry men.
+ for the huge energy. If you could dance to this, you would.
+ for having seen one of the performers live.
7 stars

Valjean's Soliloquy
Thanks for sabotaging this, Danish cast album. No Soliloquy? Instead I would have to settle analysing the Bishop's song, since oddly enough every CD has that?
I don't think so. Instead, I'd like to ask: Danish cast album, what is wrong with you?
--- to the Danish cast album.

At The End of the Day
London 1985
The instrumental start of this is pretty much the same as the start of Overture on this CD, if a little more quiet. It cheers up a bit, though, even if the ensemble could use a little bit more emotion than this. The hunger in the land etc. part sounds good, though.
I've always hated the line which mentions "bum." Who talks like that?
A pretty bitchy-sounding factory girl. And an annoying cut, since Fantine doesn't get the change to answer her. Not nice! Colm Wilkinson sings-a-little-like-this.
We get to the end of the song nicely, and the foreman, thank goodness, doesn't overact. I don't get the foremen who scream "ON YOUR WAAAAAAY", you can get the point across a little lighter too...
3 stars

Vienna 1988
A quite big beginning, fast and hectic with all sorts of drums and thingies. Minus for a very synthecized part just before the singing starts.
A nice-sounding ensemble - except for that nothing for nothing guy, who can't follow the beat to sing the six words or so he has to sing. This does the same cut as the London one, Fantine (Sona MacDonald) gets no change to defend herself against the factory girl, who sounds pretty mean, and whose voice almost drowns under the big orchestrations at one point.
A little too much echo for my taste at the female ensemble part. The foreman keeps his anger under control, good job!
2 stars (it was the hardest choice between this and London, but Vienna loses this time. Only by a little, mind you!)

Paris 1991
More horns in the beginning, but when it gets faster the instrumentals get underwhelming. I like the strings, though.
A very good-sounding counterpoint part, a good, solid ensemble.
The women gossiping about Fantine (Louise Pitre) sound mysteriously angry when talking about her.
For the first time so far Fantine gets to say something to the factory girl, and the fight is accompanied by yells and whistles of the other workers. And the foreman sure is angry, as is the factory girl. Eek.
The track ends with an unespectedly quiet but effective "non ma belle, c'est fini."
4 stars

Danish 1992
Is this a musical drama or a Christmas carol? Easy on the bells! The very slow tempo of the first instrumental part and the fastness of the other actually contrast each other nicely.
More muddy and quiet ensemble work, as previously heard on the Work Song. I'm starting to believe it might be the mixer's fault, since when you listen closely I think these guys aren't worse than the French ones, for example.
Electric guitars before the women start to gossip. Uh, um, that just didn't fit.
Weird echo during the factory girl's part. And everything has been recorded, no more weird cuts (but that doesn't justify cutting Valjean's Soliloquy, though. And I know you've got Javert's Arrival recorded, Danish CD. What is wrong with you??).
The ensemble gets better-sounding towards the end. The foreman is so pissed he almost chokes on his final words.
1 star

10th Ann. 1995
Not unespected to have the biggest instrumental part yet. Refreshingly this one has cut the slower part from the very beginning and starts the song with a big tempo and a big choir. So, not surprisingly, this sounds the best yet.
Did I just hear "butt" instead of "bum"? I surely hope so!
That one woman sounds a lot like Angela Lansbury, but I suppose it isn't her.
The Fantine-factory girl exhange has the most feeling yet. The foreman sounds bored at life in general, somehow. The ensemble and the huge orchestra sound gooood together.
This is the confusing, yelling foreman. I get he's mad, but I still think that's exaggerating...
6 stars

Dutch 2008
Begins strongly and loudly, with the slow part and then the fast part as usually. The instrumentals sound almost cacophonic at points, and the ensemble is great.
The factory girl sounds somehow the nastiest yet, enjoying Fantine's poor fortune and really blaming her for everything. Fantine (Nurlaila Karim) sounds properly desperate, too.
There's some excitement strings in the background when foreman sings the final lines, and kicks Fantine out with about the right amount of angriness.
An overall enjoyable performance.
5 stars

Live! 2010
And the orchestra, not to mention the audience, explodes! Yay! The song begins! Make noise!
Miscellaneous drums, maybe the clearest-sounding ensemble of all.
If the "bum" was gone, it's back now. Meh. But one of the guys singing about kids back at home has a lovely accent, and the gossiping ladies are maybe the best so far. I also like the live quality, just little sounds, heys and ouchs and laughs, make it somehow, well, more lively.
A shrill, mean factory girl, and a proper-sounding fight with all the screams.
Dramatic drums, a slightly messy singing - there's some yelling in the background where shouldn't be any.
A good, believable "on your way"!
7 stars

Now, let's see the points so far!
London 1985: 3 + 3 = 6
Vienna 1988: 1.5 + 2 = 3.5
Paris 1991: 4 + 4 = 8
Denmark 1992: 1.5 + 1 = 2.5
10th Ann. 1995: 5 + 6 = 11
Dutch 2008: 6 + 5 = 11
Live! 2010: 7 + 7 = 14

Adding the plus and minus bonus points and arranging...
Live! 2010 is the first with 14++
Dutch 2008 places second with 11+
10th Ann. 1995 is third with 11
Paris 1991 is fourth with 8
London 1985 places fifth with 6
Vienna 1988 is sixth with 3.5
Denmark 1992 is seventh with 2.5---

Denmark, you're about my favourite country in the whole world. I love visiting.
So, for the sake of my happy holiday memories, try to get better next time when we'll review a big load of Fantines!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The People Sing!

I got my Les Misérables 25th Anniversary Concert DVD a couple of days ago.
A really short review: I loved it.
A little longer review: I loved it, but...

I believe it's best to talk about the bad things first.
I'll try to keep this short, because I admit the rant about Finnish/Swedish Les Misérables went on about three meters longer than anyone cares to read...

Nick Jonas.
I'm certain he's a really sweet guy and probably does nice music with his band, if you like that kind of stuff. And he's the same age as I am. I've nothing against him.
But I have everything against the person who decided he was the right Marius for this concert.
I mean, his voice just didn't hold. He sounded ridiculous next to Ramin Karimloo's great strong voice, and when singing duets with the girls his voice was overpowered all the time, too. On top of this he had the same suffering expression the whole time. Kind of an "I know I'm failing, please don't beat me!" expression...

I wasn't that keen on Katie Hall as Cosette, neither.
She sounds really sweet, and she's lovely on the 2010 CD. But watching her performance I felt something was missing. She was not exactly bad, but I thought she could've been even better. Especially when it came to Marius and Cosette scenes... They seemed like two kids lost in this wild whirlpool of events, and not in a good way. To me, it felt like these two had a little more chemistry than two a planks of wood placed next to each other.
But maybe I've just been spoiled by the amazing, outstanding, wonderfully cute Finnish/Swedish Cosette and Marius.

Samantha Barks as Eponine was okay but not great.
I think Eponine is one of those characters that I haven't found a favourite performance yet, though lately I've been listening to Rosalind James on the 2010 CD. But this girl didn't manage to amaze me. She was okay, definitely not bad, and sung nicely. But somehow she didn't really make me feel for the character. I think I enjoyed Lea Salonga's Eponine more than this, for example.

Now the good things?
Well, everything else.

I loved, loved, loved Ramin Karimloo (I saw him in The Phantom of the Opera, by the way! Pure wonderfulness there, too!) as Enjolras. A gazillion times better than the guy on the 10th Ann. DVD - the only thing I remember about him is his hair, which slightly reminded me of a Ken doll...
In Ramin I've found my ultimate Enjy. He's so great, I can believe this guy really could be a revolution leader. And I could loop his "Grantaire, put that bottle down!" the whole day without getting bored. And the Enjy/Grantaire interaction during Drink With Me... Pure goodness!

Speaking of Grantaire: I liked how the students were less middle-aged this time! The clearly too old students annoyed me on the 10th ann. DVD, better luck this time! And Grantaire could pronounce "Don Juan" right! Right now I only remember hearing that done on the Dutch CD before this! It's not that hard, see!

Some have claimed that Norm Lewis was a horrible Javert.
I can't see where they get that from.
In my opinion he wasn't better than Philip Quast (my, and I dare guess everybody else's ultimate Javert), but that definitely doesn't mean he would be bad! I especially liked how he had a somehow different interpretation of Javert than the usual - for example, I could swear Earl Carpenter (my first Javert, and the Bishop on this DVD!) is channeling Philip Quast during some parts of the 2010 CD, since he sounds just like the 10th Ann. CD. But I didn't get that feeling with Norm Lewis. His Javert was his own, and totally not a bad one!

Alfie Boe's Valjean was great, too.
Valjean is not a character I feel for easily. Usually, he leaves somewhat distant for me. And I can't say it wasn't like that this time, too - might have to do more with the character than the actor. But I really liked hearing an opera singer in the role, and I thought he sounded great!
I especially loved Confrontation. Sung by Boe and Lewis it really sounded like a lifetime of pure hatred compressed into two minutes. Just great, maybe my favourite performance of that song ever!

Lea Salonga as Fantine was fantastic.
During I Dreamed a Dream shivers kept running down my spine. It was amazing. And after Fantine's Death when she leaves the stage, little Cosette enters and they look briefly at each other... I wasn't far from crying at that point!

And finally, the Thénardiers.
I thought Matt Lucas couldn't top Alun Armstrong, who I find hilarious. But he did! He was even more funny, almost perfect! I couldn't help giggling during Master of the House! If the movie becomes reality, I wouldn't mind casting him - actually, I would almost demand it!
Jenny Galloway, then again, was a little bit more funny 15 years ago, in my opinion. But of course there's more to Mme Thénardier than the fun - I think her performance is now closer to the book. And I loved how she interacted with the audience at the end of Master of the House!

Lastly, a couple words about the staging:
I think the lights, especially during the barricade parts, looked amazing. And I also liked how they didn't sit on the stage the whole time anymore (but I will miss looking at the background action!). Especially Fantine's and Eponine's deaths had a whole new emotional level to them because of the new staging!

And now it's time to shut up so you won't run out of energy reading this and go to watch the DVD again!