There is a scene in the movie Philadelphia where Tom Hanks’s character, who has AIDS and is very sick, introduces his attorney (representing him in a wrongful termination lawsuit), played by Denzel Washington, to one of his favorite opera arias. He closes his eyes and translates the story being sung while they are listening. As he speaks so passionately about La Mamma Morta we can see and almost feel how moved he is by the music.
I was reminded of the scene in the movie recently after seeing Les Miserables the movie. The actors were incredible the way they put their hearts and souls into their performances. But they still don’t hold a candle to two of my most memorable lyrical moments witnessing singers hit notes that truly take my breath away.
The first and my all-time favorite is the original Jean Valjean, in the stage musical version of Les Mis, played by Colm Wilkinson, when he sings “Bring Him Home.” The moment when he begins “God on high…” I can feel his words and song in my soul like nothing else I have ever experienced. There is just something about the way he sings that song, that gets me every time. I have heard many other Jean Valjeans attempt to sing like he does, including Hugh Jackman in the movie version. And though each man who has played the role has surely brought their own unique gifts to the part, none have been able to hit those breathtaking notes like Mr. Wilkinson.
The second one is not sung by a famous person, but rather a friend that I met in college at the Catholic church/Newman center we both attended and were active in. The song is the Gloria (from David Haas’s Mass of Light) that we sing at the beginning of mass, however due to the changes with the New Roman Missal, it will never be sung (officially) like that again. There was a verse in the old version where we sang:
“For you alone, are the holy one,
You alone, are The Lord, the most high, Jesus Christ.
With the Holy Spirit and the glory of God the Father, Father!”
The first time the choir, which my friend T was in, sang “Father,” most of the singers sang that word together. But then T would sing the second “Father” on his own, or with a few others, but T’s voice always stood out. T would hit the notes in “Father” in a way that always made me smile and touched my soul. Another one of my college/church friends L and I would always look at each other and smile, if we were sitting together or near each other during mass, when T would sing “Father,” as we both loved the sound of his voice and the way he sang that word in the Gloria so much.
When Bob and I got married, in September 2000, the choir at our wedding ceremony was made up of college friends, including my friend T and his wife, who also sang and played the piano. It was so awesome to get to hear T sing “Father” during the Gloria on Bob and my wedding day (it is one of my vivid memories) and to get to hear him sing it again now and then when watching our wedding video. L was also a part of our wedding, as a reader during the Prayers of the Faithful, so she got to hear T sing again that day too.
Though I love awesome and moving song lyrics, these singers and songs for me are not so much about the words, as they are about the incredible notes that they are able to hit with their voices and how that makes me feel.
Are there any singers and/or parts of songs that take your breath away?