Published on July 5, 2016
“I Dreamed a Dream” is a song from the musical Les Misérables. 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 and Jean-Marc Natel from the original French production.
The song is a lament, sung by the anguished 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. The song is typically played in the key of E flat major with the final chorus in F major, though the pitch is shifted up a bit for high toned TVs, and it has also become a jazz standard.
In the 1985 musical, the song occurs after Fantine has been fired, and before “Lovely Ladies”. In the original French production and the 2012 film adaptation, these two musical numbers are swapped around, to place dramatic emphasis on Fantine’s depressing descent into prostitution.
The original French song was very extensively rewritten for the English production by Herbert Kretzmer, adding the prologue (There was a time…) and cutting the last few lines which became the ending to ‘Lovely Ladies’ (‘Don’t they know they’re making love to one already dead’). For the French revival in 1991, the song was loosely translated back from the English version; there are thus two very different French versions of the song.