'Les Miserables' standout 'I Dreamed a Dream': The history of this sob-inducing song in 4 great versions

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The original “I Dreamed a Dream” was first heard on a French concept album based on Victor Hugo’s book. It was one of two tunes sung by Fantine, who was voiced by a French singer named Rose Laurens. (The other Fantine song, “L’Air de la Misere,” would later become “On My Own,” which in the English-language musical is sung by Eponine.) “[I Dreamed a Dream] came late in the process of the creation, because we thought we needed another song for Fantine,” says Schonberg, who wrote “Dream” on a white piano in his small Paris apartment. The composer started with just a single line from the Hugo book, teasing out a melody and hoping for inspiration. “When I’m writing something, I sit down at the piano the same way I will be sitting down in the theater,” he says. “I say, ‘I’m in the dark in my seat, the curtain is open, she is arriving onstage. What am I going to see and what am I going hear?’ When I try to visualize what’s going to happen onstage, I might sometimes feel kind of a sparkle of light on the other side of the tunnel. To feel that there is something coming…that’s the best moment of the creation. Because you don’t share it with anybody. You’re on your own, and it’s a very intense moment of joy when you feel that you’re starting to catch some music in the air and this music makes sense and you know that the power of this music will drive you from the first bar to the last bar of the song. That’s a fantastic moment.”

Here’s Rose Laurens performing the French “I Dreamed a Dream.”

NEXT: Patti LuPone takes “Dream” to the London stage.

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