YAA is excited to bring you a new blog column called Paco’s POV. Our wonderful Orchestra Manager, Francisco José “Paco” Cosió Marron, will be writing these every week to give you a bit more background on the production we are currently working on. Check back often to get your fill of Paco’s POV!
As we prepare to attack this colossal show based on an immense classic novel, we need to ask ourselves a couple of questions to begin to understand the theme(s.) The two most obvious subjects we need to probe are:
1. Who are these miserable ones? Why are they and their lives depressingly wretched and distressing. To introduce ourselves to our cast, we will need to look at where and when they lived and how their lives came to be so melancholically hopeless. This bleak introductory query raises the second subject we will visit:
2. The author of Les Misérables and his epic work, Victor Hugo. Who was he? Where and when did he live? What did he intend to represent in this five book - 1,500 page historical fiction. It is said that histories are written by the winners and too often reflect a very one-sided view of the events. This is clearly a work about the losers, a novel not too loosely based on history.
To address the latter concisely first:
Victor Marie Hugo (26 February 1802 – 22 May 1885) was a French poet, novelist, and dramatist of the Romantic movement. Hugo is considered to be one of the greatest and best-known French writers. His most famous works are the novels Les Misérables, 1862, and The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, 1831. Besides these two novels, Hugo is known primarily for his poetry collections, such as Les Contemplations and La Légende des siècles (The Legend of the Ages.) Though a committed royalist (think conservative) when he was young, Hugo's views changed as the decades passed, and he became a passionate supporter of republicanism (which was a liberal tendency in the 19th century;) his work touches upon most of the political and social issues and the artistic trends of his time. He is buried in the Panthéon in Paris, an honor accorded to those who impact French culture and history for the ages.
Hugo, himself, explaining his ambitions for the novel to his Italian publisher tells us who the miserable ones are: “I don't know whether it will be read by everyone, but it is meant for everyone. It addresses England as well as Spain, Italy as well as France, Germany as well as Ireland, the republics that harbor slaves as well as empires that have serfs. Social problems go beyond frontiers. Humankind's wounds, those huge sores that litter the world, do not stop at the blue and red lines drawn on maps. Wherever men go in ignorance or despair, wherever women sell themselves for bread, wherever children lack a book to learn from or a warm hearth, Les Misérables knocks at the door and says: open up, I am here for you. “
So, in his five books, he wrote about his fellow citizens, the suffering people around him in France whom he observed were representative of the suffering people around the world. He extrapolated life lessons from these vignettes and, by telling their stories, hoped to give these wretched miserables the recognition and place in history that he felt all humans deserved. Set in the period beginning in 1815 (with the final collapse of Napoleon’s dreams of empire at Waterloo) and culminating in the 1832 June Rebellion in Paris, the novel follows the lives and interactions of several characters, particularly the struggles of ex-convict Jean Valjean and his experience of redemption. Jean Valjean is a French peasant who, after serving nineteen years in jail for having stolen a loaf of bread for his sister's starving child, decides to break his parole and start his life anew after a kindly bishop inspires him by a tremendous act of mercy, but he is relentlessly tracked down by a police inspector named Javert. Along the way, Valjean and a slew of characters are swept into a revolutionary period in France, where a group of young idealists make their last stand at a street barricade in the center of Paris 17 years after we met our protagonist.
That is as concisely as one can open the first pages of our adventure. Please begin listening to the music:
Get it in your ears, minds, hearts and souls. Imagine life in Paris in the early 19th century with the collapse of the economy and political structures after the ignominious defeat at Waterloo and the subsequent days and weeks of hardships and privations as your world has been turned upside down. That is where our musical and we begin. Enjoy the weekend and what, I promise, will be a life changing enterprise.