Loving Les Mis

I came home on Monday from dinner with Jiawen and was engaged in all-out nose-honking (I have been attacked by the snifflebug) while watching the Les Miserables 10th anniversary concert on TV. My mother came out for a midnight glass of water, and said “Goodness, dear, you’ve seen this, what, over ten times, and you still cry?”

I don’t still cry. It was just the sniffles. But Les Mis remains one of the great heart-wrenching loves of my life, and just right now there’s nothing I want to do more than reread the book (this resolve may have become somewhat weakened by the time I’m wading through the 20 pages about sewers, but we’ll see), rewatch the musical when I get back to London, and relisten to the soundtrack (all 3 CDs, and I know almost all of it by heart).

I know Les Mis isn’t exactly a high-brow pleasure – professing my love for Stephen Sondheim might be more musically astute. I don’t care. I’m not ashamed of the fact that for me it pushes all the right buttons and tugs all the right heartstrings. It’s the same way Beethoven’s 5th has its hand round my heart even if his 6th is the one my brain loves.

I love every note sung by Javert (my favourite character), and every subsequent return to the musical motif in which he first enters (“Now bring me Prisoner 24601”, during Look Down).

I love the blossoming of the harmony in At The End Of The Day at “Like the waves crash on the sand/Like a storm that’ll break any second”.

I love it when both Valjean and Javert hiss “Javert!” simultaneously during their first confrontation (Valjean: I am warning you Javert!/Javert: You know nothing of Javert!)

I love Mdm Thernadier. “Master of the ‘ouse/Isn’t worth me spit/Comforter, philosopher and lifelong shit!”

I love everything Enjolras sings. “One more day before the storm!” abruptly ends the saccharine love triangle passage in One Day More for the passionate idealism and brotherhood of the students, and from there the song unfurls in all its glory, and I’m goose-pimpled from beginning to end.

“They will come when we call.” “Damn their warnings, damn their lies/They will see the people rise.” They didn’t come, and the people didn’t rise, and the slow painful turn of the barricades after the final disastrous battle is always agonizing.

The anguish of Marius’s “Oh my friends, my friends, don’t ask me/What your sacrifice was for” (Empty Chairs at Empty Tables) gets me every time.

I love the entire passage in the epilogue where the spirits of Fantine and Eponine appear and sing with Valjean. “And remember the truth that once was spoken/To love another person is to see the face of God.”

And those closing strains die away, and the finale begins, a faint chorus of distant voices singing in unison, the orchestra silent. “Do you hear the people sing lost in the valley of the night? It is the music of a people who are climbing to the light.” In the next verse the orchestra gives a tentative bass, and then everything starts to gain in momentum and strength till the final jubilant “Tomorrow comes!”, and there’s a lump in my throat, and I’m shaking, and I clap, and clap, and clap.