Tuesday, November 16, 2010

My First Opera: Les Miserables 10th Anniversary Concert - A Perfect Two-Disc Set!

The Good: Great vocals, Compelling lyrics, Good storyline, Decent presentation.
The Bad: None that I can find!
The Basics: A brilliant opera makes a complete performance on the two-disc Les Miserables 10th Anniversary Concert, which has the complete vocal performance from that event!

Arguably one of the best things about falling in love and marrying the woman of my dreams has been being able to share in things that helped make her into the incredible woman she is. My wife recently turned twenty-two and as part of the showering of gifts and celebrating of the day, I took her on a little shopping spree and on that day, she finally found the version of her favorite opera on c.d. that she had been looking for for years. It was kismet. The c.d. was the two-disc Les Miserables 10th Anniversary Concert.

I'm not entirely into opera (actually, I've only been to one and it was with my wife, before we got married!), but I like a good story and if it's a musical storysong, I can live with it. Les Miserables is an epic musical based upon the novel by the same name by Victor Hugo. The 10th Anniversary Concert was a recording made on October 8, 1995 at the Royal Albert Hall and is a two-disc set with the full vocal performance with orchestral backing as presented by the original London cast - the Royal Shakespeare Company. The concert is perfectly produced to tell the story of Les Miserables over the course of the thirty-nine vocal tracks (plus two encores made special for the 10th Anniversary).

For those unfamiliar with the story of Les Miserables, as I was before we purchased this two-disc set, the story is included in the liner notes. Les Miserables is an epic which spans several decades and largely follows Jean Valjean, a man imprisoned for nineteen years for stealing a loaf of bread. As a criminal, he is paroled and while on parole, he flees after a Bishop rescues him from the police again. Eight years later, Valjean is an upstanding member of the community, but he is hunted by police inspector Javert. Javert is an inflexibly principled man who hunts for Valjean against all reason. When Valjean intervenes to aid a woman forced to prostitute herself in order to pay for medicine for her child, he exposes himself to Javert and his principled nature will not allow him to let another man be executed in a case of mistaken identities.

The musical weaves between Valjean fleeing Javert and the peripheral people who Valjean meets at different points, climaxing in the French Revolution in nineteenth century Paris.

This is very much an operatic set, with songs that are soaring and amazing vocal displays. Colm Wilkinson presents Jean Valjean with baritone tones and a lung capacity that would make a whale envious. He is articulate and emotive and when he sings songs like "Who Am I? - The Trial," he becomes a masterful musical storyteller. Similarly, Philip Quast is amazing as Javert, though he dominates more the tenor and baritone range. He is able to sneer while singing songs like the "Prologue" and he makes his exeunt on the second disc (to write the name of the track would ruin the story for those unfamiliar with it) with a beauty and horror that is absolutely masterful.

The two primary women, Judy Kuhn as Cosette and Lea Salonga as Eponine are both masterful sopranos who carry the notes long and soulfully. "A Little Fall Of Rain" gives Salonga a chance to shine, just as "A Heart Full Of Love" allows Kuhn to show her abilities.

Rather smartly, the opera's writers, Alain Boublil and Claud-Michel Schonberg do not just write the tunes as heavy, operatic dirges. Instead, there is comic relief in the funny and catchy "Master Of The House." The women of the chorus get their turn to emote and make light with "Lovely Ladies" which is equally catchy.

The vocals are all backed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in London and the string and woodwind-dominated orchestra is flawless on this two-disc set. Over the course of the over two and a half hours of this opera soundtrack, there is never an off note and the instrumentals soar and fall with the vocals, harmonizing or making emotional counterbalance.

The Les Miserables 10th Anniversary Concert is a professional set which includes the entire opera, unlike any of the one-disc versions on the market which only have popular favorite tracks from the various performances (there is even a one-disc highlight track from this recording). But for those who love the opera or want to learn to love Les Miserables, it behooves them to have the entire story and this is it. Hold out for the good stuff! The two-disc 10th Anniversary set has a pamphlet which includes the story of the overall opera and of each track so newbies may follow along. Of course, if you're lucky, you'll have an enchanting storyteller like my wife to tell you the story as the songs come up. But even without a knowing guide like her, the 10th Anniversary Concert performance of Les Miserables is a perfect recording.

For other soundtracks or classical music, please check out my reviews of:
Star Trek Volume 2
The Last Of The Mohicans Soundtrack
The Best Of Chopin


For other music reviews, please be sure to visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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