Female Singers R Us
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Wednesday, 6 March 2013

[Duelling Divas] Which Diva Sang Les Misérables' "I Dreamed A Dream" Best?



This "Duelling Divas" seemed a timely one considering a feature film of the stage show, from which the song sprung, is currently winning awards and putting bums on seats in cinemas around the world. What could I possibly be talking about? I Dreamed A Dream from the musical Les Misérables, of course! (I'm sure the post title and it's accompanying image didn't give that away...)

Let's see what Wiki has to tell us about this iconic number;

"I Dreamed a Dream" is a song from the musical Les Misérables.[1] It is a solo that is sung by the character Fantine during the first act. The music is by Claude-Michel Schönberg, with orchestrations by John Cameron. The English lyrics are by Herbert Kretzmer, based on the original French libretto by Alain Boublil from the original French production.

The song is a lament, sung by the anguished, dying Fantine, who has just been fired from her job at the factory and thrown onto the streets. She thinks back to happier days and wonders at all that has gone wrong in her life.

In the original Musical, the song occurs after Fantine has been fired, and before Lovely Ladies. In the film adaptation, these two musical numbers were swapped around, to place dramatic emphasis on Fantine's depressing descent into prostitution.

Being from such a famous musical, it's unsurprising that I Dreamed A Dream has been covered by a number of Divas. But what makes this a change to other Duelling Diva posts is that this one contains singers that many won't be familiar with. But that shouldn't stop you getting involved; it's always good to try new things and discover new singers!

So let's get to it and watch some Divas sing!

Aretha Franklin: Aretha is so awesome, but her version is the worst out of the bunch. Kudos that she tried something different with the arrangement, but it's just too languorous. The instrumentation is gorgeous (you know I love live instrumentation), but the pace and the general composition fails to capture the soaring rise and fall of the original song, instead just meandering along at its own odd tempo. More troublesome is that Aretha fails to convey the emotion of the lyrics, with her intonation making them, at times, hard to even understand. Her vocal doesn't make up for this deficiency, with my primary problem being it sounding like Aretha was inventing the melody as she went along! Overall, not a good start!



Anne Hathaway: I was surprised by Anne's take on the song- which is totally different to any of the others in the post. Not being a singer, she relied on her talent and skill as an actor to wring every ounce of emotion out of the lyric. So although the vocal wasn't amazing, technically, the emotion she packed into the piece remains unparalleled. Ultimately Anne does the impossible and makes the song entirely her own.


Susan Boyle: Boyle's version of the classic is now up there as one of the best known renditions. From her zany entrance to the stage, to her unconventional look, no one was expecting this odd looking lady was going to be anything but a hot mess when she got around to singing. Shame on us. What makes Susan's version so poignant is that the words seem so relevant to her own life. So although the song's narrative shifts away from that of the play, it actually resonates more because of the personal connection. She did struggle at times- I thought there were one or two moments the voice was going to crack- but ultimately she ended up delivering on both the vocal and emotional front.



Petula Clark: I really like the stability that Petula had on the lower notes, as well as the little inflections to her delivery- particularly how abruptly she ended many of her notes. Whether this was due to her age or an artistic choice, I don't know, but it certainly accentuated the hopelessness of the lyrics really well. Overall there was a vulnerability about this version that rang true to the lyrics.


Ruthie Henshall: This rendition was altogether more "operatic". She wasn't belting out the soprano high C or anything, but her placement and control was exceptional. I wasn't sold fully on the emotion of the piece, but the vocal was top notch- if a little too heavy on the vibrato.


Elaine Paige: Having heard so much about this version I was surprised at it being the one I liked the least- bar Aretha's. There's a youthful, light and (slightly) sweet quality to the voice that makes the world weary lyrics harder for me to buy. There's also issues with the intonation which is a little distracting.


Hayley Westenra: Beautiful control, and a nice smooth tone which is predominately head voice weighted. Though only 14 when this was recorded, the emotion behind the lyrics was surprisingly present. However, it was altogether too uniform in tone and texture to have sold the song fully to me.



Lea Michele and Idina Menzel: I absolutely love this version. Both voices blend perfectly together and the harmonies created by making the show tune into a duet work exceptionally well. As usual Lea 's delivery is a little hammy and earnest, but it's balanced out nicely by Idina's earthy tones. I just wish the instrumentation didn't sound so artificial.





But who do YOU think sang it best? Vote (above) and comment (below)!

51 comments:

  1. Let me just say one thing. I despise Arethas version. I appreciate her for her talent and her contribution to music as an african american R&B vocalist, but she should have never touched the song. She tried to deliver soul into a lament. It sounds so...WRONG! Surprisingly my favorite was Annes version. The others to me delivered the notes much more efficiantly than Anne- but her delivery on screen (i guess that makes me a bit biased haha) was flawless! Plus her singing was live on recording with no editing. To all those that havent seen Les Mis- dont expecting amazing vocals but DO GO SEE anne hathaways performance. I have never cried during a movie let alone 3 times! haha. Such a wonderful work of art.

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  2. I will edit this once I listen to everybody's, which I will. There is one glaring omission here. Lea Salonga is one of the best singers I have ever heard and she was just on the 25th anniversary concert. This is the best quality I got. The ones with video ones are bad quality. She's a lyric soprano so her register is a little high for this part. Lea's sweetness shines through in some of the notes. That might not be a good thing for this sad song. http://youtu.be/tEDKtekJpYk

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  3. I'm not going to vote for Anne because the question is "Who sang it the best?" not "Who's performance was the best?" If it was best performance, she wins hands down. She's not the best singer in the group but that portrayal was legendary!

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  4. Well one would say that singing is a form of performance art in itself. ;)

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  5. Another entry - Randy Graff, of the Original Broadway cast. This is the version I have listened to the most and likewise gets graded against. You can find her on the Original Broadway Cast album or right here in bad quality - http://youtu.be/2_g609L2nbU

    I really like the Idina Menzel/Lea Michele version. There is a revival planned for Broadway in 2014 and I wish one of them would get the part. Pretty please!!!

    My vote goes to Lea Salonga. She's just remarkable all the way around. Can't get enough of her. Her only downfall in my eyes is that everytime I look at her, I see Kim. http://youtu.be/HYjQduehTpM

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  6. It seems you are confusing vocalization with singing :)

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  7. Not a fan of Lea. TBH her voice has always been mediocre for me. I'm pretty sure the only people who tout her as 'amazing' are her Filipino stans (who also ignorantly praise Charice, Jessica Sanchez, and Regine Velasquez due to their nationality.)

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  8. I'm not Filipino, and No that is NOT why I think she's amazing. Those others you mention are not in the same league with her. Maybe only Charice gets close. I'm glad Cameron McIntosh (he's not Filipino either) doesn't share your opinion about her. You basically think she's mediocre because her name is not Mariah Carey - I get it.

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  9. The only reason Anne's vocal performance wasn't better was because of the emotion she packed into it. Believe me. Its difficult to do a weepy song justice. Either the vocal is flawless and its sucked dry of emotion, or the emotions are raw and jangling and the vocal is choked. Susan Boyle is the only one in this listing that tried balancing the two, and in doing so, didn't shine in either respect. But if you listen to other vocals done by Anne Hathaway, the girl can sing. Shes not flawless by any means, but she knows how to infuse emotion into her delivery.

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  10. And in the end Anne hardly strained at all. She gave the illusion of course of turmoil and anguish in her voice- but she ascended to those notes pretty efficiently and easily for someone whos not known as a singer.

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  11. Not true at all. I can name many vocalists I find impressive other than Mariah- Celine Dion, for instance, Sarah Connor, for another, Cher even, and the list goes on.


    I simply find Lea not quite as impressive as many others. I will concede that her voice is pleasant and she sings well, but when you compare her vocals to that of many others, they simply do not measure up.


    Perhaps I was wrong when I made my blanket statement about those that praise her being all Filipino. However, you must admit that a large, delusional part of her fanbase IS Filipino, and their Asian pride DOES come to play a part in their favoritism of her.

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  12. I don't know if it's true, but I heard that she has some training, and was meant for the role of Christine in the Phantom film of 2004

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  14. Reiko, I'm okay with you. You caught yourself and admitted you were wrong and yes - that was exactly the part that irked me. Its all good. I like simple, clear deliveries and I like "sweet", which Lea's voice is. You like melismatic, complex, crazy range, technically difficult, up and down like a roller coaster... everything Mariah is (just using her as an example this time). Nobody is ever wrong, we just have different tastes.

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  15. I really like the way you put that!

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  16. For the record, I never said she was a bad singer. I think she's a good singer, not a great one. Look no further than the scene when Valjean is dying where she is singing "normal". It appears that Anne is getting a lot of love and maybe will win this. I will not complain one bit if she does.

    I do have one request. Anne's mother, Kate Hathaway, played Fantine on Broadway years ago. I did a search and couldn't find a recording of her. I would to see/hear that if someone more resourceful than me could find that.

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  17. Sorry but I have to disagree it's an either/or scenario. It might be for Anne Hatheway and some others. But it's not generally true that excellent vocals and emotion can't be achieved at the same time.
    Country music for instance is a genre tradtionally chockfull of weepy songs sung by many singers able to deliver excellent vocals packed with emotion. And there are plenty examples from other styles as well.
    For one I give you....
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gm3JigL9_ZY&feature=youtube_gdata_player

    And I can easily add another 10 links to that

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  18. Some people just sound sad when they sing. They just have that melancholy timber, either sound really sad or just a hint of it. Michael Jackson always sounded sad when he was singing his ballads, Randy Graff sounds sad singing IDAD, Celine Dion has a hint of it, part of why I like My Immortal so much is because the way Amy Lee's voice matches the lyrics. I could go on and on too.

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  19. True as that is Joel ( Shelby Lynne is another example) I'm am at a loss how that is a reply to my comment?

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  20. I'm supporting your comment/agreeing with you...

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  21. Any other diva suggestions though?

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  22. Well thanks but your point had little to do with my point.
    I took exception with John's claim that flawless vocals and emotion filled vocals are mutually exclusive.

    Natural sad timbre seems to me to be a different issue?

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  23. I guess so. Tomato, tomahto... I guess I'm basically saying that some people don't even need to try to vocalize sadness or do what Anne did to draw the listener in emotionally. You're talking about controlling it within their performance. I tend to agree with you. Sometimes when you're listening, you can picture them smiling while they're singing because you hear joy or sweetness in their voice. Then same singer different song (or different part of the song), you can hear pain. I'm actually listening to Babyface at the moment. Another guy that can prove your point.

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  24. Hate to be nitpicky but I'm afraid if I don't I will be misinterpreted. :-)
    Yes, some people naturally sound sad. But they still could be at the same time singers who have trouble combining emoting with excellent technique
    My point aswell as john's point was unconnected to the natural timbre.
    So therefor it is not tomato-tomahto. Yours is more a different argument than backing up or agreeing with my argument

    I am not familiar with Babyface. Can you post a link to a video demonstrating him , as you say, proving my point?.

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  25. I guess I should probably qualify my statement. Its incredibly rare to find someone who is talented enough as a singer to maintain perfect breath support and vocal control while still fully emoting. Its something, usually, you're either naturally gifted at doing or not. Patsy Cline is a perfect example. She was always on key and well supported throughout her range, while still conveying the emotion of her lyrics through her devastating delivery. There are others, but they are rare gems. This, I'm sure, you can agree. As a rule, my wording above is accurate, but there are certainly exceptions, as with everything.

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  26. You got French music for me, I got R&B for you. Babyface:

    Happy song: http://youtu.be/GbrSO81KhBY

    Sad song: http://youtu.be/sk5-uL2ZZ-0

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  27. I'm afraid I still disagree and have to re-itterate...they are not rare. They are simply harder to find due to mass media and the music Bizz flooding us with crap to such an extent, we start believing real singers are ''rare''.

    Patsy indeed was a fine example but seriously...you look outside pop/chart music and you will find singers aplenty who are eminently able to sing.

    So, unless you qualify your statement to include the words ''in popmusic''...I will continue to disagree. ;-)

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  28. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7nZUwpsIBMo&feature=youtube_gdata_player

    Thanks. :-)
    I gave you French AND American though. Here's some more Americans for you.

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  29. Also a Cuban American..

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vcCojcGb9IY&feature=youtube_gdata_player

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  30. And one from India

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jvL_Yk1Q9Z0&feature=youtube_gdata_player

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  31. I wish the great classical singer Sumi Jo had the chance to sing that song.

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  32. I think what we are looking at are extreme ends. It is possible to emote while singing and not lose technique but when you truly sell out the way Anne did, its impossible to keep it all there. Anybody who has ever tried singing with tears in their eyes and sinuses can tell you that. Just try not sounding nasally when that happens. Hit your top chest notes? Forget about it. So what Anne did was remarkable.

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  33. Also I had never heard of Hayley until now and Ive got to say WOW. Im mesmerized by her voice and perfect placement.

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  34. I am by no means saying a performance needs to be technically perfect in order to be an awesome performance emotion wise.

    I am only arguing against the claim the two are mutually exclusive or singers able to deliver all that rare.

    Personally I am fan of Robert Plant for instance. A guy whose vocalising isn't always in key. But...highly effective within the music.
    It's not technically perfect but it IS in his control. :-)
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WDrXQzngxmw&feature=youtube_gdata_player

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  35. I think I can agree to further qualify with "in pop music." Also in further qualification is the degree of emotion that Anne displayed with her delivery. The tortured depression to the level of choking back tears and that quake in the voice. I would propose that it is impossible to display that degree of emotion while retaining perfect breath support and pinpoint pitch control. If you're feeling the emotion so strongly that you're actually truthfully crying, you've already lost control, and I highly doubt any recording artist outside experimental music would go as far as she did in this. The hyper-emotional delivery worked perfectly for her on screen. The truth of it was beautiful to behold. But her emotions were an extreme, that most musicians don't need to get to in order to make good music.

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  36. Yes, Anne was acting rather than singing. Which is of course what is required when making a movie rather than an album. By someone who is an actress rather than a singer. ( even if she obviously can carry a tune, she still is the former really)
    As such I think she did an excellent job indeed. :-)

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  37. I LOVED Aretha's rendition

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  38. That would have been interesting indeed!

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  39. Hayley is great huh? I have one of her albums and meant to get more of them, she has a lovely purity to her voice.

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  40. I think this particular song suits the mezzo voice more. It sounds more grounded and genuine, I did like Hathaways version though her voice is too light for the song. I particularly enjoyed Ruthies version, it felt more true to my ears, but thats just a personal view!

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  42. Chun Yin Milo Ho19 May 2013 at 13:50

    I love the Glee's version. Lea Michele is one of the best SINGER in this generation with no doubt.

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  43. Surprised you didn't put in the original I dreamed a dream singer patti lupone

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  44. I like Lea Salonga's version and Patti Lupone

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  45. I HAVE TO AGREE WITH YOU. HER RENDITION WAS EXCEPTIONAL. REMARKABLE. IMPECCABLE. JUST, AMAZING!

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  46. Not a Filipino but I'm a huge fan of Lea. And those "others" you mentioned are not of the same genre. I know a lot of people (not Filipino) who admire her very much.

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  47. Irrelevant. We're not discussing theatre, we're discussing vocalists in general.


    And I retracted my filipino statement.

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  48. I feel that Ruthie's version depicts a Fantine who sort of accepted her fate (hence the less expression and more operative thingy). However, for Anne's version, it gives me the feeling that Fantine is feeling extremely unjust, not really wanting to accept her fate (hence the more expression eg. choking sounds). In my opinion, I think the real Fantine would have been like Ruthie instead of Anne, even though Anne acted+sang really well (just my opinion, please don't bash me ><) Equally impressed :D (Y)

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  49. I chose Lea Salonga because besides a superb voice she is also a superb actress who can put emotion into "I Dreamed A Dream".

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  50. I picked Lea Salongs because besides being a superb singer she is also a superb actress which she uses to imbue proper emotion into the song.

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