Les Miserables is returning to the National Theatre in D.C. at the end of the year, so I'm going to take a few of my Virginia friends to see it as a present to both myself and them. I've never actually seen the show, although I know the book by heart. The song book, that is, not the literature (although that too, was a worthwhile read, if you skipped over the lengthy tangents which were thinly disguised governmental essays). I'm a fan of musicals where the music and the story are equally important, which is why I think most classical Broadway shows are fairly trite and uninspired. I jsut don't like the absurdity of having a magic bell-tone followed by a random burst of song for no apparent reason between snippets of dialogue.
My feeling is, if you're going to write a musical, you should really make it a musical, and not allow the music to be a slave to the performers or story. I think both Les Miserables and Miss Saigon both manage to pull that off, although I haven't seen either one. I did see Martin Guerre a few years back, but it was essentially a re-arrangement of the Les Mis music in a different context. All three musicals are by the same writers, for anyone who's not big on the musicals world.
Anyhow, I've got five front-balcony seats reserved for the December 15th show, so wave up there if you happen to be present.
I got in too late this evening to do an update, so I'll think up something wittier for tomorrow.
I finished off the 3rd season of The Sopranos yesterday. Overall, I thought it was a good season and had its moments, but it wasn't quite as good as the previous seasons. There was no overarching plot tying this season together, and the writers often started developing a character or story before dropping it without resolution. Also, one of the actors passed away before this season began, so to prevent a plot hole, there is a requisite 'last scene' early in the season where digital remixes of old footage allow that character to have one final chat with Tony Soprano before death. It's pretty horrible. They should have just shown that character from the back the whole time; it would have been more believable.
We decided to take a trip to the beach this afternoon and found the place pretty much deserted. Besides the usual assortment of humping horseshoe crabs, we also found a cache of fiddler crabs buried just below the waterline, which the dog had a blast with.
There was an incredibly crass commercial on last night for a welding school in Jacksonville. Taking consumer stupidity to its natural extreme, the commercial opened with "Our welding school is a lot like this other welding school in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Well, graduates from that school have a 99% employment rate!" The rest of the commercial was one crazy comparison after another, and it ended by saying, "Nationwide, there is a demand for 900 more welders than our school had graduates last year. Think how many job opportunities this means for you!"
I watched two movies yesterday that had been on my list to see for quite some time: Panic Room and Vanilla Sky. The first was a suspense movie from this summer which was really well done. I thought it'd be hard to stage a suspenseful story around a single room, but this movie managed to pull it off with flying colours. I didn't care for Vanilla Sky as much, although I know some people back home who really liked it. It tried too hard to be clever, and ended up as a muddled mix of Total Recall and Fight Club.
I'm nearing the end of the second section of my thesis now, and it's coming along satisfactorily. I've roughly plotted it out to be a nine-part continuous work for chamber players, lasting around fifteen minutes or so. I'm still groping a little bit, but hopefully I'll hit that point of reverse inertia sometime soon and compose to its inexorable end. (MIDI is on the Music Page under Work in Progress, as always).
I picked up a copy of the 10th Anniversary concert recording of Les Miserables yesterday. The price tag always deterred me in the past, but after listening to it, this recording is easily the best of the three recordings I'm familiar with, both because of the cast and the orchestration. I may take a couple of days this week and compare the three recordings as a 'special feature' of sorts, so if you hate musicals, please come back on Thursday.
I've been up to my neck grading papers today, so special feature week will not start until tomorrow.
President Bush continues to rattle his sabre, much to the world's chagrin. I anticipate that we'll be involved in some sort of military action against Iraq within 30 days, with or without popular consensus.
To break the monotony, I'm going to spend a few days doing a review/comparison of three major recordings of the musical, Les Miserables by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg. I'll be looking at the Broadway Cast recording (B), the Complete Symphonic recording (C), and the Tenth Anniversary recording (T) only, since I haven't gotten around to buying the London Cast recording yet. If the mere thought of musicals makes your pores explode, you can come back on Sunday, as I should be finished by then.
I myself wasn't even remotely interested in musicals until about six years ago when a close friend listened to them tirelessly. As I've mentioned before, I'm more interested in those where the music is paramount, not those that are vehicles for divas and theatre folk. Boublil and Schonberg's work is interesting in this regard because all three of their musicals are through composed, with a bare minimum of spoken word. I think one of things that draws me to them is how they can manage appeal to such a disparate musical audience while maintaining artistic integrity. It's something that modern composers should consider, even if they dismiss musicals as commercial or nonserious art.
Everyone knows something about Les Miserables even if they haven't read the book or seen the musical. Songs like Castle on a Cloud have become part of yuppy-pop culture and Master of the House was even incorporated as a major subplot in an episode of Seinfeld. In high school, it was considered chic for all the strange theatre people to wear Les Mis T-shirts, with the waifish Cosette emblazoned on the back.
Over the next few days, I'll be doing a character by character comparison of the recordings and listing my favourites. Even if you aren't familiar with the music, it may be interesting to see how different singers treat (or mistreat) the lyrics. If any of the excerpts below whet your appetite, the recordings and various 'Selections From' CDs are available through all major online retailers or at your nearest Border's Books.
Jean Valjean: Most Les Mis fans seem adamant in their belief that Colm Wilkinson (B, T) was the definitive Jean Valjean, and he does give a maturity and weight to the role. Plus, he doesn't sound like a pansy while belting out the high notes. Gary Morris (C), is a country singer, and his roots can easily be felt in his interpretation. It's not that he's so bad, it's just that he's too American, too young sounding, and not vocally acrobatic. Of his two recordings, Wilkinson sounds better on the earlier Broadway recording, which sounds more like he was in his prime. It's interesting that I tend to prefer the British performances because their accent adds some authenticity, when the original musical was actually in French, and the story takes place in France. Perhaps British accents just have more culture than American ones.
The Bishop of Digne: This is a fairly minor role, but is important because of his impact on the life of Valjean. Ken Caswell (C) wins this one hands down. His performance is compassionate while being slightly haunting. Paul Monaghan (T) sounds too warbly, and the bishop on the Broadway recording sounds more like a bored university professor than a man of the cloth. I don't have the liner notes for the Broadway recording here, so I can't locate all of the minor actors' names.
Fantine: Randy Graff (B) epitomizes the things I hate about the excesses of singing. Listen to her warbling of Fantine's lyrics and chuckle at the overemphasis and tragic vibrato. Of the other two recordings, I'd have to chose Debbie Byrne (C) as my favourite. Her voice isn't as attractive as Ruthie Henshall (T) but it fits the character of the world-weary, dying character to a T. I like Ruthie's voice a lot, but she would be better in another less tragic role. I tend to like soprano voices that have distinct timbres like Ruthie's, because it's not just your run-of-the-mill high-note-swatter's.
Do you have any opinions of your own on Les Mis or musicals in general? Do you hate Les Mis Week more than you hated Computer Game Music Week? Let me know by sending me an e-mail with the icon in the upper right corner.
To be continued...
Part II of V
Inspector Javert: In my opinion, Javert is more crucial to the success of this musical than Valjean. You can't have a game of cat and mouse without a compelling cat; try imagining The Fugitive with Keanu Reeves in Tommy Lee Jones' role. With this in mind, there is no doubt that the best Javert actor is Philip Quast (C, T), whose voice and demeanor illustrate the character's obsession with the letter of the law over the intent of the law. Some of the most compelling scenes on the recordings are the result of Quast's exceptional work showing Javert's conflict between anger and remorse. Terrance Mann (B) is good enough, but his delivery is weak, and he often sounds like he's reciting nursery rhymes.
Thenardiér: All three actors do a decent job with the character, but the addition of a Cockney accent really adds a lot. Leo Burmester (B) does a good job portraying the comic side of Thenardiér, but doesn't sound dangerous at all. Alun Armstrong (T) is a little better, but has some annoying mannerisms when it comes to placing the notes against the accompaniment. Finally, Barry James (C) really nails the character perfectly. His voice sounds both sinister and sneaky, but is light enough to handle Master of the House as well. He may not be the best singer of the three, but he's perfect in the role.
Madame Thenardiér: This is not a major character by any means, and she's more of an offshoot of her husband than anything else. Jenny Galloway (T) gives the most believable performance, while Gay Soper (C) gives the most interesting one. Gay essentially turns her into a cartoon caricature, but in this case, it works out pretty well. The Broadway version is okay, but is hurt by the absence of an exotic accent.
To be continued...
The US government was quick to link the Kuwaiti attacks to al Qaeda. Anything that makes the faceless Middle East villainous to the common folk is newsworthy. No doubt before long, we'll find a Tarot card from the Montgomery County Sniper with 'I am Osama' written on the back of it.
Happy Birthday Mike!
Part III of V
Marius: David Bryant (B) would make a good Marius in Les Misérables: The Muppet Edition. Otherwise, there's nothing particularly memorable about his performance. Michael Ball (C, T) does a great job in turning the role into a believable character, where it was falt and boring on paper. His performance on the Complete recording is slightly better and less wavery than the later Tenth Anniversary recording. On the latter, he sounds more like he did in Webber's Aspects of Love.
Eponine: Frances Ruffelle (B) is my favourite for the role of Eponine, although not every likes her bluesy-pop interpretation of the part. In anattempt to make the cast on the Complete recording more international, they chose the Japanese edition of Eponine, Kaho Shimada (C). Though a neat idea and great for equal opportunity, the result is an uneven performance from a singer who knew no English and sang everything by rote with a voice coach on hand. Some of her delivery is laughably bad and in other parts she sounds like an 80s pop star. The excerpt below is probably the best and least jarring passages she sings on the recording. Finally, Lea Salonga (T) has the best diction of any singer. Ever. It doesn't help in this role, however, and the harshness of her consonants kills Eponine. She was a great Kim in Miss Saigon, she was fine as Jasmine in Disney's Aladdin, and she was probably great in Disney's Mulan, but she just doesn't cut it as Eponine.
Cosette: People seem to hate Tracy Shayne (C) in this role, but I think she has a very attractive voice. Tracy is one of the few sopranos I've heard with an incredibly high-timbred voice that is also very clear. Judy Kuhn (B) tends to be the normal favourite, but her performance just gets on my nerves and reminds me of a musical saw. Plus, she looks a little goofy and blank when she sings. The fact that Marius could fall in love at first sight with Judy Kuhn makes him seem more shallow. Though not necessarily bad, she would also be a good addition to the Muppet version of the musical.
To be continued...
Dave McGarry has a new batch of songs for download, and they're much more refined than his previous stuff . The recording quality is top-notch too although there's still a whole lot of E and F# major. It must be a guitarist thing.
Virginia Tech plays Boston College tonight at 7:30 on ESPN.
Part IV of V
None of today's characters are major enough to hurt the musical through bad casting, but a good choice always adds a little extra oomph to the recording.
Gavroche: All three actors of Gavroche are about equal in their roles. The Complete recording's Gavroche (Ross McCall) has the most believable accent, but makes his death scene ridiculously protracted, gasping for air after every syllable.
Young Cosette: The Broadway actress is the most believable as a singing tot, but Marissa Dunlop (C) has the prettiest rendition of the character's only song. Hannah Chick (T) does a decent enough job but stumbles a few times (probably because it was live).
Enjolras: Anthony Warlow's (C) powerful voice captures the character of the student leader who is completely consumed by thoughts of revolution. Michael MacGuire (B, T) sounds a little tentative in the role, and I don't like the way he enunciates his big entrance (in the excerpt below).
Grantaire: Grantaire only has a few lines in the musical, but his part is greatly enhanced by Kenny D'Aquila's voice, which has been described as "brandy-soaked". The raspy, gruff timbre is perfect for the part of thedrunkard student. The Broadway Grantaire has a good voice, but an embarassingly canned laugh in the excerpt, which sounds like he was reading the score and it said "Laugh here."
To be concluded...
Part V of V
Chorus and Orchestra: The Broadway recording is done with a reduced orchestral set, using synthesizers as if it were a standard pit. The full orchestrations of the other two recordings give the music a lusher, more believable quality that's also more enjoyable. The Complete recording is the cleanest of the three, which lets you hear every note of the score as it was meant to be heard, but the impact of the live performance on the Tenth Anniversary recording can't be beat for excitement (even though it's a little sloppier than the other two).
Interaction: Because there was no complete dream cast on any one recording, the interaction between actors can be hit or miss. The Broadway recording is unmemorable, but the other albums contain several well-done moments. Of particular note are the sequences where Philip Quast interacts with the best actor or actress in the other roles.
Completeness: The Complete recording (obviously) shines in this category, because it contains every single note of the score across three discs. As a composer it's interesting to hear everything that the composer intended with full orchestrations, without the cuts normally associated with Highlights albums and live running times. Coming in second would be the Tenth Anniversary recording which does a good job of hitting all the interesting spots without going overtime.
Overall: In the end, it comes down to a tie between the Complete and the Tenth Anniversary recordings. The only redeeming feature of the Broadway recording is Eponine. If you're looking for a comprehensive recording with decent actors and solid sound balance, I'd recommend the Complete recording. However, the nature of live performances gives the Tenth Anniversary recording an energy that's hard to mimic in the studio.
During the writing of this Special Feature week, it was announced that Les Miserables would end its run on Broadway in March 2003, sixteen years after it opened. I hope you found this week's updates interesting and enjoyable, or at the least, distracting. I'll close off with a few extra sound clips. The first is just for kicks. The second shows how effectively the composers handled dramatic structure to insert a light-hearted moment in an otherwise tense situation (although personally I think the Little People would be more at home on a 70s episode of Sesame Street than in its current spot). It's effective even if a little ridiculous.
Note: All of these MP3s are not recorded at the highest quality, so as to make downloads slightly faster. If you want to borrow the original recordings, just let me know.
I've spent this weekend working on the new website for the FSU student chapter of SCI. Although this will not be the ultimate location, you can see the work in progress here . Comments on formatting and content are always welcome.
As always, I have a small backlog of things to post that I saved during special feature week:
Queen snubs little boy. Brother will remember when he becomes a thug. Those kids' facial expressions are priceless.
This is an interesting optical illusion. Don't believe it? Try cutting out the two squares in Photoshop or MS Paint and comparing. They're exactly the same colour.
Last night I had a long and pedantic dream in which I wrote the third section of my thesis from start to finish. There was no MIDI in the dream, I just wrote on paper with pencil and it played from somewhere. Of course, when I woke up, none of it was done and I couldn't remember a single note I'd put on the paper.
"The Daily Evergreen would like to sincerely apologize for an injustice served to the Filipino-American, Spanish-speaking and Catholic communities on the front page of Thursday's Evergreen.
The story 'Filipino-American history recognized' stated that the 'Nuestra Senora de Buena Esperanza,' the galleon on which the first Filipinos landed at Morro, Bay, Calif., loosely translates to 'The Big Ass Spanish Boat.' It actually translates to 'Our Lady of Good Hope.'
Parts of the story, including the translation above, were plagiarized from an inaccurate Web site." - Daily Evergreen Online
Registration for Spring classes started today, so I'd better get off my ass and get some paperwork signed. I'll also need to decide what my plans are fairly soon, since my courseload for the Spring will hinge upon it. I requested an offer for a full-time position at FGM this weekend, so I should hear back about that pretty soon.
Have you seen the iMac TV spots featuring real people talking about their switch from the PC to an iMac? If you haven't, watch a couple of these (notable Hamilton Morris and Ellen Feiss), and then watch this parody made by someone at a forum I frequent (AVI, 1.67MB). It's the funniest thing I've seen in a long time.
I spent today cleaning up the SCI forum and continuing my work on the third section of my thesis work (I also updated the Work in Progress MIDI on the Music page). It's a pain in the ass to have a page hosted on FSU servers -- they're so overprotective about security that functionality is greatly limited.
I'm working on a new trumpet work, Solus for unaccompanied trumpet, by Stanley Friedman. It's not really my favourite kind of work, but for a modern trumpet piece with extended techniques, it's a fairly solid work.
I finally got around to trying out Kazaa, one of the many peer-to-peer network clients floating around since the demise of Napster. I never used Kazaa originally since the real version is loaded down with spyware, and since then, I haven't had a stable enough connection to download anything. Kazaa Lite is crazily effective, and a five year old could probably figure out how to run it. If I didn't already own seven thousand CDs, I'd probably use it all the time.
My lesson was abbreviated a bit today, but things are progressing nicely on my thesis. I'm about two-thirds of the way through the third section now, and should be well into the fourth section by the end of the month.
The season premiere of Boston Public is on tonight, but it looks like they're losing a few prominent actors from the series who are moving on to bigger and better things. TV shows in general this year seem pretty lackluster. Alias is very good again, and quite possibly better than it was last year. Friends, though still funny, has become pretty one dimensional. It's like the show's writers have taken the most "laugh-invoking" trait of every character and turned them all into caricatures (even moreso than they were before). It'll be interesting to see what happens to Boston Public without the stars -- this season is notable for the television acting debut of Joey McIntire (of New Kids on the Block fame). Good lord...
There really needs to be a minimum competency exam to pass before you're allowed to practice outside, especially if you're a trumpet player. I highly doubt that Kent Kennan intended his Sonata to be played with all the high notes cracked and a semitone flat.
How you practice if you're a Methodist: Get it? METHodist. "LOLZ".
A "Composition Challenge" has been added to the SCI website, in an effort to entertain composers and their offspring. Go check it out if you're in the mood to write against a motive. On a sidenote, I'll try to limit the crossposting of news after that site has an audience, but until more people than myself and Jim Barry visit, I'll whore out this news page to get new faces over there .
Next semester I may be taking as many as seven credits of Independent Study to stay in the assistantship game. I'll probably continue doing Fundamentals software work as a D.I.S. while teaching a class or something like that.
I've had some recurring network problems recently, so it looks like it's time for the first clean sweep of the new computer. If I disappear for an extended period of time this weekend don't fret, for I shall return. Windows XP, though fairly crash-proof and much easier to rollback, doesn't seem like the kind of operating system that allows complete restarts with any ease.
There's new research out now that suggests that high quantities of sodium and MSG can lead to blindness. Looks like I'm screwed.
I've posted my latest battle report on the Writings page, if you haven't already gotten around to seeing it.
I'm back online with all of my network problems fixed. The reformat was actually pretty painless for a Windows process. The only reason I didn't post yesterday was that I was too lazy to get my FTP software installed until this morning.
I received an offer from FGM for full-time employment now, and all the cards are on the table. I'll be making my career-altering decision in the next couple of days, and I'll post something up when I've decided. Either way I'll definitely be around for one more semester in glorious Tallahassee.
Department of Defense no longer trusts buglers
I'm halfway through the fifth section of my thesis work, having skipped over the fourth for now. I wasn't sure how I wanted to get into or out of the fourth section, so hopefully doing the fifth in its entirety will give me some ideas. Of course, what also might happen is that I'll discover the fourth movement to be redundant and end up losing a bunch of music. The pitfalls of composing...
There was an interesting news report on the e-mail that Saddam Hussein gets written by a reporter who guessed the username and password and gained access to the account. Even though it wasn't so difficult, it's still technically hacking. Should news organizations be allowed to use information gained this way in public?
The e-mails sent to firstname.lastname@example.org were obtained earlier this month by first clicking on a link labeled "Check your e-mail in Uruk" on the homepage of Iraq's state-controlled ISP, Uruklink.net, then guessing the login name and password -- both of which were the same five-letter word.
"1,2,3,4,5. That's amazing I've got the same combination on my luggage!" - President Skroob
Happy Halloween! I have big fatass CRUNCH bars if you want to knock on my door.
As you've probably deduced from yesterday's cryptic update, I've decided not to go for a Doctorate in music. I accepted an unofficial offer from FGM on Wednesday morning, and received word last night that an unexpected budget surplus has guaranteed me a spot on the payroll starting next May. There are many reasons behind how I came to this decision, and I'll try to write some more about them this weekend.
In the meantime, if you like any of my furniture, lay claim to it now because I won't be taking it all back to Virginia.
Stupid people still exist.
BSA hates heathens.
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