I was regaled with the concert performance of Les Miserables, hereafter the miserables, last night. It was either that or golf, apparently. And I like Steph Curry, so basketball was out.
There are three songs that move my soul in this show. I would like to share. Reader-land, before I do, I want you to guess and put your favorite songs from the show in the comments.
I was first introduced to the miserables in Shoreless Lake school, remember the one with Fr Francis? El Padre Alfonso wanted us all to have culture, and we were exposed to symphonies, operas, classic movies, and more, this being one. It was the tenth-anniversary concert, which is still cool to me when I see them bring back the cast for big shows, I only knew them. Anyway, I thought it was beautiful music, but I was bored and wanted to watch Die Hard. Culture, ha!
As I grew older, as is often the case, I became reflective, and the songs had deeper meaning, just as the book does. And here I must add that Hugo was a fallen away Catholic, almost anti-Catholic, which is something I want to highlight and expound upon because in his anti-Catholic views, he hits truth in his book, and then they are captured brilliantly and I suspect unintentionally in the music.
The big musical numbers, Fantine’s songs, the love story and especially the innkeepers? Nope. Beautiful music but not the standouts to me. I hit upon the message of redemption and hope. On parole/The Bishop, is song number two. It captures the bitterness of the ex-convict, and then there is this voice who offers a peaceful night. The Bishop lets him stay, and Valjean steals the silver. When he’s caught, the bishop gives him more silver, in exchange for Valjean changing his life.
Here’s the first moving moment. The Bishop actually was quite imprudent! Letting a convicted thief, a repeat offender, off scot-free, even making him rich! But, what we can’t understand and what Hugo, Claude-Michel Schönberg, Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel perhaps didn’t intentionally include, a supernatural aspect that can’t be explained. Christian charity calls for taking him in, but not to forsake justice. The Bishop here uses mercy, but it’s a form of justice, because it doesn’t just make everything ok, it forces Valjean to change his life. As I said in my Sacraments post, mercy involves humility and also a desire to change. In the story, moved by the Holy Spirit, the bishop provides both to Valjean. And the ending low note! Wow!
I have a post on low notes!
The extent of this mercy is explored in the very next song! Valjean’s soliloquy, and he voices where he is, and at the end realizes that mercy and sets off to go change himself. Incredibly powerful music and words, but it is also the correct response to mercy. As Javert is incapable of understanding later in the story. When presented with misdeeds and sin, do we double down to keep doing them, or do we accept the mercy offered? Do we try to get up and begin anew, or keep mucking about with the same issues, not caring? Listen to the song, and see the stages of repentance! It’s really amazingly short and sweet yet incredibly deep.
These two songs almost always get me teary eyed.
Then, the only other song that moves me in this whole show, is Bring Him Home. I know, one of the big numbers, a crowd favorite. It makes me cry every time I hear it performed in character. What parent hasn’t had this thought? Military families, police families, firefighters families, parents of new drivers, new college students, etc. Again, unknowingly, the creators touch upon the supernatural, invoking God on high! And admitting that He’s there in need! The singer is petitioning for something, and I always laugh when I hear people say God has more important things to do, as if He’s somehow limited! The writers don’t realize it but they glorify and acknowledge the Catholic Church teaching on prayer and petition.
To me though, ALS has a role in connecting me to this song. It’s not just bringing someone back safely to a physical home. Valjean cries out, if I die, let me die, let him live! But, I will die. I can’t offer my death up to physically save the life of my family. I won’t even be around. The song has a redux at the end, at Valjean’s death, to bring him Home. Heavenly home. And that is my tears and prayers for my family. Unwittingly, maybe, the song creates a great calling for family to get to heaven, even petitioning God to help in some way. I will die, and they will live.
Bring them Home.
Now I am crying.
Hans Urs Von Balthasar tried to show the modern world the three transcendentals of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty, were all things that are in the world, outside of any religion, but would lead everyone to God. He reversed it though and says to begin with beauty, and eventually, you will come to the Truth, which Jesus said was Him. The Miserables encapsulates this reality, as beauty reflects back to goodness and unknowingly shows Truth in these songs and even in the book by an anti-Catholic! Again, the intent wasn’t to do so, but it happened!
Two final thoughts. First, thank you to Catholic Stuff You Should Know for introducing me to Balthasar and the theologians like him, as they have laid the groundwork for evangelization in a post-Christian era,. Two, I want you, Reader-land, to go out and discover transcendental beauty, intentionally made or not, and discover how it funnels to goodness and Truth.
4 thoughts on “Les Miserables”
I can’t even pick my favorite song from Les Mis. That is like finding a needle in a haystack. The musical is responsible for my passion for musicals.
I don’t have a favorite-they are all so good. I constantly am singing I Dreamed a Dream, but I also love Do You Hear the People Sing?. All of the voices together with the harmonies and the powerful words give me goosebumps every time!
I am an emotional wreck watching Les Mis- doesn’t matter if it is the songs alone or the film or the stage show- I am reduced down to tears and get goosebumps as well. Words alone can’t describe how intense the emotions get.
Usually in a musical, I have that favorite song, but I can’t pick- nor can I choose my favorite character.
Les Mis is like a ball of yarn- if you get rid of one tiny thing- it starts unwinding itself- that is how carefully planned out it is. You need every character, every subplot, everything, or else the story falls flat. There is a reason for every little thing in that show.
I love Look Down and One Day More. Both songs capture the despair and hope of the poor in pre-Second Empire France.