CD Les Miserables [French] (CD 4337285),
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Les Miserables [French]
Original French Concept Album
Manufacturer Part Number (MPN): 93915062
As a follow-up to their first collaboration, La Revolution Franaise (1973), composer Claude-Michel Schnberg and lyricist/librettists Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel moved a few years later in French history -- and into classic fiction -- for their musical adaptation of Victor Hugo's celebrated novel Les Misrables. Like Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita (as well as La Revolution Franaise), the work first took the form of a "concept" album -- i.e., a studio cast recording -- before the authors sought a theatrical production. Across 87-plus minutes and 32 selections featuring 16 principal singers, they told the sprawling story of French society and the 19th century Paris revolt. The main plot concerned Jean Valjean (Maurice Barrier), a former convict turned respectable man still being pursued by Inspector Javert (Jacques Mercier) while raising a foster daughter, Cosette (Maryse Cdolin at first, Fabienne Guyon later) under the specter of growing social unrest. It is the uprising, as experienced by the young student Marius (Richard Dewitte), the street urchin Gavroche (Fabrice Bernard), and others that dominates in this panoramic score.
The creators rightly supposed that their French audience would be familiar with the story, and they concentrated more on moving things along and giving each character a musical showcase than on focusing on any one plot line. (This may have worked better on disc than on-stage; when mounted at the Palais des Sports in Paris starting on September 17, 1980, the show ran its scheduled 105 performances and no more.) Schnberg, whose musical influences clearly included Oliver!, Cabaret, Jesus Christ Superstar, and Sweeney Todd, came up with some memorable, sweeping melodies, and Boublil and Natel provided lyrics that gave the impressive cast a lot to work with. Particularly striking were "L'Air de la Misre" and "J'Avais Rv d'une Autre Vie," both sung by the doomed Fantine (Cosette's mother, played by Rose Laurens); the devilishly comic "La Devise du Cabaretier," sung by the comically evil Monsieur and Madame Thenardier (Yvan Dautin and Marie-France Roussel); the stirring revolutionary anthems "Rouge et Noir," sung by Marius and Enjolras (Michel Sardou), and "A la Volont du Peuple," sung by Enjolras; Gavroche's spirited "La Faute Voltaire"; and Javert's suicide note, "Noir ou Blanc."
Of course, Les Misrables did not disappear after its run at the Palais des Sports. It was taken up by British producer Cameron Mackintosh and seriously reshaped by co-directors Trevor Nunn and John Caird with lyricist Herbert Kretzmer to create the English-language version that opened in the West End in 1985 on its way to world domination. The better-known international version considerably beefs up the part of Valjean, who gets several new songs (among them "Bring Him Home"), as do characters who interact with him directly, such as Javert. Songs are reconceived and passed to other characters; notably, Fantine's "L'Air de la Misre" becomes "On My Own" and is given to ponine. And the parts of the revolutionaries are cut down considerably; for example, Gavroche, a major character in the French version, all but disappears in the English one. Nevertheless, anyone coming to this original French studio cast recording of Les Misrables only after experiencing the English version will be able to recognize much of it, and even to sing "I Dreamed a Dream" during "J'Avais Rv d'une Autre Vie" and "Master of the House" during "La Devise du Cabaretier." ~ William Ruhlmann
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