I escaped the heat on Friday by going to see Les Misérables in a nice, air-conditioned cinema. I had a lot of misgivings about this film, it must be said. Firstly, as a singer in training myself, I have Opinions about how things should be sung. But more importantly, I absolutely loved the musical when I saw it as a teenager. I learned all the songs, bought the sheet music and learned all the accompaniments, read several English translations of the text (learning, in passing, what a difference a translator can make), then saw the musical in France and bought that recording and learned all the songs in French, too. I even tried to read the novel in French, but got stuck a couple of hundred pages in, when Hugo goes off on a digression about Napoleon. This had been hard enough to get through in English. In French, it was a bit too much.
So the film had a lot to live up to, musically speaking, and while it was far better than I had feared, it didn’t quite get there for me. On the other hand, the acting, staging, and general quality of the film really were excellent enough that I could forgive the occasional vocal weakness and the deep strangeness of finding the chorus voices more appealing than those of the leads. It made me cry in all the right places, and only made me wince a handful of times (and let’s face it, one of the reasons I don’t go to films very much is because most of them manage to fill me with ire one way or another, and it is antisocial to express this in a cinema). Overall, I’m glad I saw it. But it has left me with a deep craving for the French recording, which I now have only on an obsolete cassette tape.
Not much of the version I saw in Paris back in 1991 seems to have made it onto YouTube, but some of it has. And it still makes me cry.
This is the final, encore version of ‘A La Volonté du Peuple’ (At the will of the people / Do You Hear the People Sing), and it’s the one that always makes me cry at all the wasted lives. I love it. Like all the songs in the French version, the words are subtly different to those that get sung in English. I think they are better.
|À la volonté du peuple dont on n’étouffe jamais la voix
Et dont le chant renaît toujours et dont le chant renaît déjà
Nous voulons que la lumière déchire le masque de la nuit
Pour illuminer notre terre et changer la vieIl viendra le jour glorieux où dans sa marche vers l’idéal
L’homme ira vers le progrès du mal au bien du faux au vrai
Un rêve peut mourir mais on n’enterre jamais l’avenirJoignez-vous à la croisade de ceux qui croient au genre humain
Pour une seule barricade qui tombe cent autres se lèveront demain
À la volonté du peuple un tambour chante dans le lointain
Il vient annoncer le grand jour et c’est pour demain
C’est pour demain!
|At the will of the people, whose voice will never be stifled
And whose song is always reborn, and whose song is being reborn already
We want the light to tear away the mask of night
To illuminate our world, and change our life.
The glorious day will come when, in his march towards perfection
Man will go from evil to progress, and from falsehood to truth
A dream can die, but one can never bury the future.Join the crusade of those who believe in the human race
For each barricade that falls, a hundred others will rise tomorrow
At the will of the people a drum sings in the distance
It comes to announce the great day, and that is tomorrow!It is tomorrow!
How good is that?
Now, of course, I just want to link to every single song I can find from the French version of Les Mis, but I’m actually going to exercise some restraint here, and just give you Eponine’s song, because this (and Javert’s song, which I cannot find online) was my favourite when I was a teenager, and I think it still holds up. Though I should also note that I think some of the best singing in the entire film was Samantha Barks’ rendition of this song.
|Je suis toute seule encore une fois, sans un ami, sans rien à faire.
J’suis pas pressée de retrouver ma solitude et ma misère.
J’attend que vienne le soir pour l’évoquer dans ma mémoire.
Je marche seule et chaque nuit les rues de ma vie l’appartiennent
Mon histoire c’est un rêve qui commence
Avec lui je ne suis plus la même
Je sais bien que j’ai tout inventé
Je sais bien qu’il n’est jamais à mes côtés
Et pourtant, je continue à croire
Oui, je l’aime, mais comme les nuits sont courtes!
Oui, je l’aime, mais je suis seule au monde
Et je l’aime, oui je l’aime
|I am all alone again, without a friend, without anything to do
I am not in a hurry to recover my solitude and my misery
I wait for night to fall, so that I can evoke him in my memory.
I walk alone and every night the streets of the city belong to me
My story is a dream that begins
I know very well that I have invented all this.
Yes, I love him, but how short the nights are!
Yes, I love him, but I am alone in the world
And I love him, yes I love him,