Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Do You Hear the People Sing?

And now a guest post written by my sister, "Pnutdolly." Who has her Masters in music/vocal performance. Thanks, "Pnutty!"


Since we all know by now that Boon’s favorite musical is Les Mis, how about another Les Mis post?  I’m writing this not as a music theorist, or a musicologist, but as a vocal performer. Let’s take a look at the vocal performances in Les Misérables (2012), shall we? We shall!

I just have to say how refreshing it was that they didn’t perform this musical the exact same way we’ve all been hearing it performed for years. Is Fantine emotionally strong enough to sing her “aria” in full voice? No. Bravo! (I’d use the correct brava in this case but don’t want to sound too pretentious.) Nobody cares that parts traditionally sung are spoken or even sprechstimme. Nobody cares that Hathaway isn’t singing fortissimo at measure 52 of I Dreamed a Dream, as written. The marking that really matters is appassionato “with passion”. Even in the glorious, exalted world of opera performance you can occasionally hear technique sacrificed for passion. If you’re so angry you want to kill that guy for arresting your husband, you go right ahead and yell that note instead of sing it. Singing is communication. Without the emotion, drama and story it’s just another boring performance, of strong singers, singing it like the last performance we saw, and the almost 200,000 ways you can watch it sung on Youtube.

Now, I had no problem whatsoever with the singers. Even Amanda Seyfried (who should have been replaced) didn’t bug me that much. However, here are a couple things they could improve on. When Hugh Jackman is singing, especially at the top of his range, he needs to drop his tongue. He has it raised up against his hard palate. This restricted his resonance and air flow when he needed it most. Next, Russell Crowe. He could have used more resonance. He needed to bring his voice out from the back of his throat and to the front, top of his forehead. This is hard to describe without gestures. And now, Amanda Seyfried. It sounded more like a warble than a clear vibrato. The difference being control. She sounded unsure and nervous. If you can convince me her character was unsure and nervous then we have no problem. OK I could see that. But, when making acting/singing decisions, you need to make a strong decision, not a weak one.

I’d like to close by saying that to assume actors that are not singers should have been able to pick up correct vocal technique, in a year or less, is ridiculous and a bit insulting. Let’s cut them some slack and enjoy the movie!

Bravo-good masc.
Brava-good fem.
Sprechstimme-singing voice
Fortissimo-very strong
hard palate 
vibrato- a slightly tremulous effect imparted to vocal tone for added warmth and expressiveness by slight and rapid variations in pitch.


  1. Thanks Pnutdolly! I especially liked, "when making acting/singing decisions, you need to make a strong decision, not a weak one." So true! This reminds me of when I was going to CSUN and a few of the students asked a certain cast member if another certain cast member sang off as a character trait. Yikes! Who would ever do that apart from Cameron Diaz in My Best Friend's Wedding, when it was obvious that she sang terrible on purpose?

  2. Great post P-Nutty! I appreciated your insight. And I agree, I didn't want nor need to hear these songs sung the way we've heard them sung or the last 20+ years.

  3. Oh! And I wanted to talk about how so many (200,000) people sing it the way they do because they are trying to be pretty. Pretty part, pretty voice, etc. Hathaway didn't try to be the "pretty" Fantine. Kudos.

  4. Stephanie, I agree. The vocal stuff didn't bother me, which is funny because it is a musical. But like you said, passion and story should not be sacrificed for "pretty" vocals. BUT just so you know, I think singing would be important if it was important to the characters and story... like say... in The Phantom of the Opera. If your character description is "someone who has the most beautiful voice in the world"... you should be able to sing. But I digress. ;)