“Til I Hear You Sing”: Love Never Dies

27 02 2010

Since I will not be reviewing any shows this weekend, I thought I would enchant you with a nice little Saturday morning analysis of the newly-released music video: “Til I Hear You Sing” from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s sequel to Phantom of the Opera, Love Never Dies. Primarily, I want to talk about how Jud’s “Lonely Room” (from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1943 classic Oklahoma!) creeps into the Phantom’s new song. These songs share similar structures – and the connection is apt.  Both Jud and the Phantom are outsiders, isolated and lonely in their respective worlds.  Their songs progress from harsh reality of the character’s isolation –> a dreamworld shared with Laurey / Christine –> back to harsh reality, the impossibility of actually inhabiting that imagined space with the woman that they love.  (“Til I Hear You Sing” seems to have two dreamworld bridges that then bring the Phantom back to reality, as shown below.)

But let’s compare the lyrics to see how effective each is within this structure. Here are the opening lines, establishing the character’s current reality:

“Lonely Room”

The floor creaks,
The door squeaks,
There’s a fieldmouse a-nibblin’ on a broom.

“Til I Hear You Sing”

The day starts,
The day ends,
Time crawls by.

What is happening here?  Briefly, Glenn Slater (ALW’s lyricist for this particular project) is taking the structure of a very specific and evocative Hammerstein lyric … and genericizing it. The creaking floor, squeaking door, and nibbling fieldmouse of Jud’s lonely smokehouse turn into a hyper-generalized space.  After all, day starts and ends literally everywhere on earth.  Where are we?  Who is this character?  Why should we care?  Now let’s compare the dreamworlds that Jud / the Phantom imagine:

“Lonely Room”

(And a dream starts a-dancin’ in my head.)
And all the things that I wish fer
Turn out like I want them to be,
And I’m better than that Smart Aleck cowhand
Who thinks he is better’n me!

And the girl I want
Ain’t afraid of my arms
And her own soft arms keep me warm.
And her long, yeller hair
Falls across my face
Jist like the rain in a storm!

“Til I Hear You Sing”

And sometimes at night time
I dream that you are there
But wake holding nothing but the empty air.


And music, your music
It teases at my ear
I turn and it fades away and you’re not here.

Again, Slater has moved us into the realm of a generic pop song that could be sung by almost any lonely, dreaming character.  The only specific in Slater’s entire lyric is the occasional reference to music, pointing out the Phantom’s desire to hear Christine sing.  But then again, music is itself part of the symbolic repertoire often evoked in popular song; even this reference doesn’t firmly tie the song to character or plot.

Shall I attack the music as well?  Why not!  ALW’s music is equally at fault in the genericization of “Til I Hear You Sing.”  Richard Rodgers is known for sweeping and often scalar melodies, with solidly tonal harmonic underpinnings.  “Lonely Room” stands apart as one of his most dissonant compositions, with tense, crunchy, pulsating harmonies in the “reality” section that give way to a whirling, more tonal dreamworld – then come collapsing back to Jud’s dissonant reality.  The end of the song both lyrically and musically pushes Jud to a disturbing decision: “Goin’ outside, Git myself a bride, Git me a woman to call my own.”  (Echoes of Sweeney Todd‘s “Soliloquy,” anyone?)  Not only the lyrics, but the music is character-appropriate – highlighting Jud’s dissonance with the community, yet his dreams of somehow being normalized and having a relationship with Laurey.  “Til I Hear You Sing,” on the other hand, has both generic lyrics and sweeping generic music that Andrew Lloyd Webber has probably ripped from Puccini or another classical source. Despite Ramin Karimloo’s dynamic performance, the song’s musical and lyrical structure is that of a rather static, self-pitying lament.

There is a very fine line between writing a song that is just plain generic, and one that is specific yet applicable beyond its theatrical context.  Having only heard “Til I Hear You Sing” from Love Never Dies, I would guess that Andrew Lloyd Webber and Glenn Slater have a significant amount of work to do in previews if they want to achieve that balance.




One response

17 11 2010
Ear Infection Treatment

i love classic operatic arias and Phantom Of The Opera is one of the best musical ,~*

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