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Wandering Ranger

On the "Extreme Notes" in the Show

Since the majority of discussion around here is centering on the London production (and rightly so) I thought it would be appropriate to have a discussion on the "extreme" notes in the show, some of which are originally part of the score and some which have been added in as part of a specific actors take on a role. Just to clarify, when I use the phrase "extreme notes" I mean a really high or low note that a character only has to hit once with the rest of his/her part being nowhere near that note. For example:

Valjean's High B at the end of Who Am I?
Javert's low b (I think) on chaaaaiinn in the Confrontation
Enjolras' High B at the end of the Final Battle (iiiiissssss freeeeeeeeeee!)

What do we all think to these extreme notes? Are they an integral part of the performance? Does an actor's performance lose something if they do not hit that note for whatever reason?

Your thoughts please...
l'ivrogne transfiguré

Re: On the "Extreme Notes" in the Show

Wandering Ranger wrote:
Valjean's High B at the end of Who Am I?
Javert's low b (I think) on chaaaaiinn in the Confrontation
Enjolras' High B at the end of the Final Battle (iiiiissssss freeeeeeeeeee!)


Javert's note on Chaaaiinn is a bottom F. Very few people, definitely in MT, are able to reach a bottom B. And Enjolras has a B flat, not a B.

Also, you say that the parts get nowhere near those notes at other times. In fact, Valjean gets up to a B flat at a few points, such as in the Soliloquy, and many A naturals, so a B natural isn't that much higher.
Wandering Ranger

sure but the B's he has are not sustained. OOOOONNEEEE is held for a few bars, the ones in Soliloquy aren't held for nearly as long in fact they are simply one crotchet in length.
Eppie-Sue

I'm just going to comment on the B flat for the Final Battle, considering it's the one note that I have a pretty clear opinion on. Taking everything I know into account, David has been the first to sing the "is free" like this.
There have been others to go up to the B flat for the "free", some of them are on the Final Battle comparison video that's on YouTube, too.
I do not generally like the "sung" Final Battle, mostly because I think it takes a lot away from the moment, it seems very staged and, while I'm sure it's not the singer's intention, more seems like a way to show off their range and to give their role a "pretty" ending with that note.
I believe there are about four different versions, in general, how you can do the Final Battle. Either shouted (like Maguire at the TAC), or almost spoken (like an order), or the B flat just on "free" or the IIIIS FREEEEE of course.
Out of all those, I prefer the shouted version over all the others if we're not going by any particular performer, simply because it's a very emotional and passionate moment, and it's conveyed best in a simple shout (as long as it doesn't sound too aggressive. Again, Maguire, as flawed as his TAC Final Battle is, does it pretty well there).
But from all the Final Battles I've heard, the very clear, very intense and loud way of belting out the two words the way David sings them is the only version that actually conveys what I think works for that moment: The determination, the passion and the sublimity. This does, of course, only really work if they're pretty flawless, but, thankfully, this year, I haven't heard him go wrong once. If an actor can do that and can give the notes the right "pressure" and impact - which is, interestingly, rather the case with singers that are not at their utmost ease with notes in that range - I think the "David Thaxton" kind of Final Battle embodies everything you need in that moment and rings in your ears afterwards. It's very impressive and, as you just don't get the calmness of the death scene from the book in the musical's Final Battle, it's the best I can possibly think of. Someone mentioned how it could be compared to the phrase of the "cry of freedom", and I think that describes it very, very well indeed.
That said, from what has been done in the past year, I'm not convinced it's been regarded as a unique version that just works for particular performers. Apparently, after the past two years, it is now a casting requirement for the part, which, while incredibly impressive considering the role has been played for 25 years, doesn't strike me as completely necessary. If an actor decides he can do it every night and can give it the right colour and quality, then it should be his decision. As for all other current Enjolrasses - they all sing that note now, and it never really impresses me.
I have heard Jon Robyns fail to deliver that note a few times now, and I don't understand why he has to go for it (I know that Owain Williams sings it the "Thaxton" way, too), and in London both Mark Dugdale and Killian Donnelly actually hit the note, especially Mark as he is a wonderful tenor. At the same time, and as great as it sounds, I'm not always sure singing the note for the sake of singing it (because it's now been adapted to the score) is the way to do it, actually. It's a very personal moment, and it's a very important moment for the character, so there has to be the appropriate thought behind it, and it has to be in context. It's perfect for David's Enjolras and the most impressive Final Battle I can imagine and I know from the general reaction that it isn't just me but that it has a very great impact on the audience... but doing it just because it's a requirement cheapens it, somehow, doesn't it?
l'ivrogne transfiguré

Wandering Ranger wrote:
sure but the B's he has are not sustained. OOOOONNEEEE is held for a few bars, the ones in Soliloquy aren't held for nearly as long in fact they are simply one crotchet in length.


True, but I would argue that in general, holding and sustaining high notes is not as big a problem as actually getting them in the first place, and I might even go so far as to say that it is easier to sing longer notes. I have heard Valjeans (most recently JOJ on tour) who sing lovely, strong, loud, long Bs on the ONE, but who really didn't sound half as good on "This is all I have lived for". Those lines require more control seeing as they are part of a musical phrase, it is a very emotional moment, and it is harder to develop the support on shorter notes

Eppie-Sue wrote:
(I know that Owain Williams sings it the "Thaxton" way, too)


Regarding Owain Williams, he has perhaps in some ways come closest to David Thaxton's way of doing it. He is clearly not as comfortable as, say, Mark and Killian, so he does have to put the effort in to reach those notes, and that does come off. Unfortunately, he is also by far a weaker singer than David, so the 'wow' effect is somewhat diminished, but he does hold the 'free' on for quite a long time (and there might even have been a hint of David's hands, there ...). Then, as Eppie-Sue says, you have someone like Mark who just sings that note beautifully, but does just sing it, making it seem a bit pointless. And on tour, you have Jon, who just stands there and sings it badly and squeakily, and, much as I hate criticising Jon, that has got to be the worst I've heard.
Wandering Ranger

l'ivrogne transfiguré wrote:
True, but I would argue that in general, holding and sustaining high notes is not as big a problem as actually getting them in the first place, and I might even go so far as to say that it is easier to sing longer notes. I have heard Valjeans (most recently JOJ on tour) who sing lovely, strong, loud, long Bs on the ONE, but who really didn't sound half as good on "This is all I have lived for". Those lines require more control seeing as they are part of a musical phrase, it is a very emotional moment, and it is harder to develop the support on shorter notes


I see your point but I would say holding a note like the B/B Flat is harder than hitting it in the way required for Soliloquy because, when the note is only 1 beat long, as a listener, you don't have the time to dwell on it and think about how it sounded too much. However when a VJ hits the B in Who Am I? it is a long held note and one can say "that was a well hit B" so it is harder when it is held becase there is more opportunity for it to go wrong and for the listener to scrutinize it. Its how baritones playing VJ like HPJ are able to get away with it in Soliloquy but not in Who Am I? because its a note they can hit but not necessarily hold for the amount of time that song demands.
Orestes Fasting

Wandering Ranger wrote:
l'ivrogne transfiguré wrote:
True, but I would argue that in general, holding and sustaining high notes is not as big a problem as actually getting them in the first place, and I might even go so far as to say that it is easier to sing longer notes. I have heard Valjeans (most recently JOJ on tour) who sing lovely, strong, loud, long Bs on the ONE, but who really didn't sound half as good on "This is all I have lived for". Those lines require more control seeing as they are part of a musical phrase, it is a very emotional moment, and it is harder to develop the support on shorter notes


I see your point but I would say holding a note like the B/B Flat is harder than hitting it in the way required for Soliloquy because, when the note is only 1 beat long, as a listener, you don't have the time to dwell on it and think about how it sounded too much. However when a VJ hits the B in Who Am I? it is a long held note and one can say "that was a well hit B" so it is harder when it is held becase there is more opportunity for it to go wrong and for the listener to scrutinize it. Its how baritones playing VJ like HPJ are able to get away with it in Soliloquy but not in Who Am I? because its a note they can hit but not necessarily hold for the amount of time that song demands.


How about four whole phrases on mostly A flats and B flats? ("Take an eye for an eye / turn your heart into stone / this is all I have lived for / this is all I have known") Or a passage that hangs out in the same range and ends on a sustained A natural? ("Jean Valjean is nothing now / another story must begin") Sustained stuff like that is much more difficult to support than a single money note at the end of a song, and when it's a series of phrases, the audience does have time to dwell and think about how it sounded.

And that's not even touching BHH--the performance version, unlike the transposed version in the piano/vocal selections, is in A. That means a helluva lot of F sharps and quite a few A naturals.

Point being, the B flat at the end of Who Am I? is at the upper part of Valjean's range, but it's not too far away from the tessitura of Valjean's other songs.

Also, you missed a couple:

- Cosette's high B flat at the end of A Heart Full of Love and her high C at the end of Every Day. These are written in the score and are not optional, but they weren't originally there--they were added at Rebecca Caine's request in rehearsals for the London production. You can hear on the OFC that AHFOL would sound fine without the high note.
- Fantine's low D in the finale on "and you will be with God." This is written as optional in the score, but it messes up the phrase if the actress can't hit it and goes for an F instead.

Interesting that the musically unnecessary high notes are not marked as optional, while the necessary low note is. Perhaps because Cosette is cast as a generic soprano ingenue and is therefore expected to have those notes, while Fantine can be almost any voice type.
Wandering Ranger

also one we missed out is the fllliiiiiiggghhhttttt in the Prologue. What note is that supposed to be? In my score it says simply "scream"
beyondthebarricade

Wandering Ranger wrote:
also one we missed out is the fllliiiiiiggghhhttttt in the Prologue. What note is that supposed to be? In my score it says simply "scream"

I think that it's a high D- that's what Bowman does. Another extreme note could be the last "I will see it done!" before the Runaway Cart. That's a high C, although I've only heard Colm Wilkinson do it that way.
l'ivrogne transfiguré

Yes, Bowman does a high D, as do all the other Valjeans I've heard live. Gary Morris on the CSR does something a bit more shouty, but it's close enough to an A/Bish, (I can't quite work it out ... pitch fail) as does Colm on the TAC, and it doesn't appear on any of my other official recordings Sad
Wandering Ranger

beyondthebarricade wrote:
Another extreme note could be the last "I will see it done!" before the Runaway Cart. That's a high C, although I've only heard Colm Wilkinson do it that way.


I've never heard anyone do that bit high. Even CW on the Dream Cast sounds like he is shouting the done, who does that high?
Pannic

Wandering Ranger wrote:
also one we missed out is the fllliiiiiiggghhhttttt in the Prologue. What note is that supposed to be? In my score it says simply "scream"
If it says scream, then it's probably just a scream, unless there are multiple versions of the score, which wouldn't surprise me...

Also, in the sheet music I've seen, Valjean's last note in "Who Am I?" isn't sustained. It's just a quarter note.
Wandering Ranger

well in mine its sustained for about four counts (its a semibreve) so there very probably are multiple versions of the score.
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