Rock opera

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A rock opera is a collection of rock music songs with lyrics that relate to a common story. Rock operas are typically released as concept albums and are not scripted for acting, which distinguishes them from operas, although several have been adapted as rock musicals. The use of various character roles within the song lyrics is a common storytelling device. The success of the rock opera genre has inspired similar works in other musical styles, such as rap opera.

Rock music is a broad genre of popular music that originated as "rock and roll" in the United States in the early 1950s, and developed into a range of different styles in the 1960s and later, particularly in the United Kingdom and in the United States. It has its roots in 1940s and 1950s rock and roll, a style which drew heavily on the genres of blues, rhythm and blues, and from country music. Rock music also drew strongly on a number of other genres such as electric blues and folk, and incorporated influences from jazz, classical and other musical styles. Musically, rock has centered on the electric guitar, usually as part of a rock group with electric bass, drums, and one or more singers. Usually, rock is song-based music usually with a 4/4 time signature using a verse–chorus form, but the genre has become extremely diverse. Like pop music, lyrics often stress romantic love but also address a wide variety of other themes that are frequently social or political.

Concept album album with a theme

A concept album is an album in which its tracks hold a larger purpose or meaning collectively than they do individually. This is typically achieved through a single central narrative or theme, which can be instrumental, compositional, or lyrical. Sometimes the term is applied to albums considered to be of "uniform excellence" rather than an LP with an explicit musical or lyrical motif. There is no consensus among music critics as to the specific criteria for what a "concept album" is.

A rock musical is a musical theatre work with rock music. The genre of rock musical may overlap somewhat with album musicals, concept albums and song cycles, as they sometimes tell a story through the rock music, and some album musicals and concept albums become rock musicals. Notable examples of rock musicals include Next to Normal, Spring Awakening, Rent, Grease, and Hair. The Who's Tommy and other rock operas are sometimes presented on stage as a musical.

Contents

History

In an early use of the term, the July 4, 1966, edition of RPM Magazine (published in Toronto) reported that "Bruce Cockburn and Mr [William] Hawkins are working on a Rock Opera, operating on the premise that to write you need only 'something to say'." [1]

<i>RPM</i> (magazine) Canadian music industry publication

RPM was a Canadian music industry publication that featured song and album charts for Canada. The publication was founded by Walt Grealis in February 1964, supported through its existence by record label owner Stan Klees. RPM ceased publication in November 2000.

Bruce Cockburn Canadian folk/rock guitarist and singer-songwriter

Bruce Douglas Cockburn is a Canadian singer-songwriter and guitarist. His song styles range from folk to jazz-influenced rock and his lyrics cover a broad range of topics including human rights, environmental issues, politics, and Christianity.

William Hawkins (songwriter and poet) Canadian songwriter, poet, musician and journalist

William Alfred Hawkins was a Canadian songwriter, poet, musician and journalist, most notable for his contributions in the 1960s to Canadian folk rock music and to Canadian poetry. His best known song is "Gnostic Serenade", originally recorded by 3's a Crowd.

Colin Fleming of The Atlantic has identified The Story of Simon Simopath (1967) by British psychedelic band Nirvana as the first recorded rock opera. [2] Later in 1967, Montreal's Influence recorded a long suite titled "Mad Birds of Prey (A Mini-Opera)", which closed out their sole album, which was released in January 1968. [3] Perhaps unaware of these earlier efforts, Neil Strauss of The New York Times wrote that S.F. Sorrow (1968) by The Pretty Things is "generally acknowledged as the first rock opera". [4] Although Pete Townshend denied taking any influence from S.F. Sorrow, critics have compared The Who's Tommy to it. [4] Scott Mervis of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote that, although Tommy was not the first rock opera, it was the first album to be billed as such. [5] Tommy would go on to influence On and On, a rap opera by The Fat Boys [6] and American Idiot , a punk rock opera by Green Day. [7] In an effort to appeal to more modern audiences, opera companies have welcomed more pop and rock influences. The resulting rock operas have met varying degrees of success as the worlds of high art and low art mix. [8]

<i>The Atlantic</i> Magazine and multi-platform publisher based in Washington, D.C.

The Atlantic is an American magazine and multi-platform publisher.

<i>The Story of Simon Simopath</i> 1967 studio album by Nirvana

The Story of Simon Simopath is the debut album by British psychedelic band Nirvana, released by Island Records in 1967. The lyrics trace the story from life to death of the titular hero via a series of short songs. The story deals with a boy named Simon Simopath who dreams of having wings. He is unpopular at school, and after reaching adulthood goes to work in an office in front of a computer. He suffers a nervous breakdown and is unable to find help in a mental institution, but gets aboard a rocket and meets a centaur who will be his friend and a tiny goddess named Magdalena, who works at Pentecost Hotel. Simon and Magdalena fall in love and get married, followed by a jazzy party.

Nirvana are an English pop rock band, formed in London, England in 1965. Though the band achieved only limited commercial success, they were acclaimed both by music industry professionals and by critics. In 1985, the band reformed. The members of the original Nirvana took Kurt Cobain to court over the name, eventually reaching a settlement.

In Russian music, the term zong-opera (Зонг-опера) is sometimes used, since the first Soviet-Russian rock-opera Orpheus and Eurydice was described with this term, though the term "rock-opera" was already known in the Soviet rock music circles.

Orpheus and Eurydice is a 1975 rock opera album by Russian composer Alexander Zhurbin.

A rock opera that experienced commercial recording and Broadway success is Jesus Christ Superstar , written by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, and in respect of which Lloyd Webber said "the piece was written as a rock album from the outset and set out from the start to tell the story through the music itself." [9]

<i>Jesus Christ Superstar</i> Rock opera by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice


Jesus Christ Superstar is a 1970 rock opera with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice. The musical started as a rock opera concept album before its Broadway debut in 1971. The musical is mostly sung-through, with little spoken dialogue. The story is loosely based on the Gospels' accounts of the last week of Jesus's life, beginning with the preparation for the arrival of Jesus and his disciples in Jerusalem and ending with the crucifixion. It depicts political and interpersonal struggles between Judas Iscariot and Jesus that are not present in the Bible.

Andrew Lloyd Webber British composer

Andrew Lloyd Webber, Baron Lloyd-Webber is an English composer and impresario of musical theatre. Several of his musicals have run for more than a decade both in the West End and on Broadway. He has composed 13 musicals, a song cycle, a set of variations, two film scores, and a Latin Requiem Mass. Several of his songs have been widely recorded and were hits outside of their parent musicals, notably "The Music of the Night" and "All I Ask of You" from The Phantom of the Opera, "I Don't Know How to Love Him" from Jesus Christ Superstar, "Don't Cry for Me, Argentina" from Evita, "Any Dream Will Do" from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and "Memory" from Cats. In 2001 The New York Times referred to him as "the most commercially successful composer in history". Ranked the "fifth most powerful person in British culture" by The Daily Telegraph in 2008, the lyricist Don Black stated "Andrew more or less single-handedly reinvented the musical."

Tim Rice British lyricist and author

Sir Timothy Miles Bindon Rice is an English author and lyricist. He is best known for his collaborations with Andrew Lloyd Webber, with whom he wrote Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Jesus Christ Superstar, and Evita; with Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson of ABBA, with whom he wrote Chess; for additional songs for the 2011 West End revival of The Wizard of Oz; and for his work with Alan Menken on Disney's Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, and the musical King David. He also worked with Elton John on Disney's The Lion King, the musical Aida, and DreamWorks Animation's The Road to El Dorado and Ennio Morricone.

Style

According to Fleming, rock operas are more akin to a cantata or suite, as they are not usually acted out. [2] Similarly, Andrew Clements of The Guardian called Tommy a subversively-labeled musical. Clements states that lyrics drive rock operas, which makes them not a true form of opera. [10] Responding to accusations that rock operas are pretentious and overblown, Pete Townshend wrote that pop music by its very nature deflates such attitudes and is simplistic. Townshend said that the only goal of pop music is to reach audiences, and rock operas are merely one more way to do so. [11] Peter Kiesewalter, on the other hand, said that rock music and opera are "both overblown, massive spectacles" that cover the same themes. Kiesewalter, who was originally not a fan of opera, did not think the two styles would mix well together, but his modernized operas with rock music surprised him with their popularity at the East Village Opera Company. [12]

A cantata is a vocal composition with an instrumental accompaniment, typically in several movements, often involving a choir.

A suite, in Western classical music and jazz, is an ordered set of instrumental or orchestral/concert band pieces. It originated in the late 14th century as a pairing of dance tunes and grew in scope to comprise up to five dances, sometimes with a prelude, by the early 17th century. The separate movements were often thematically and tonally linked. The term can also be used to refer to similar forms in other musical traditions, such as the Turkish fasıl and the Arab waslah and nuubaat.

<i>The Guardian</i> British national daily newspaper

The Guardian is a British daily newspaper. It was founded in 1821 as The Manchester Guardian, and changed its name in 1959. Along with its sister papers The Observer and The Guardian Weekly, the Guardian is part of the Guardian Media Group, owned by the Scott Trust. The trust was created in 1936 to "secure the financial and editorial independence of the Guardian in perpetuity and to safeguard the journalistic freedom and liberal values of the Guardian free from commercial or political interference". The trust was converted into a limited company in 2008, with a constitution written so as to maintain for The Guardian the same protections as were built into the structure of the Scott Trust by its creators. Profits are reinvested in journalism rather than distributed to owners or shareholders.

Rock operas are usually recorded and performed on albums by the artists themselves, but they can also be performed on the stage, such as Rent , which played on Broadway. [13] This usage has also courted controversy; Anne Midgette of The New York Times called them musicals with "no more than the addition of a keyboard and a drum set". [14]

See also

Related Research Articles

The Who English rock band

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Pete Townshend English rock guitarist of The Who, vocalist, songwriter and author

Peter Dennis Blandford Townshend is an English multi-instrumentalist, singer and songwriter best known as the guitarist, backing and secondary lead vocalist, principal songwriter and co-founder of the rock band the Who. His career with the Who spans over 50 years, during which time the band grew to be one of the most important and influential rock bands of the 20th century.

<i>Tommy</i> (album) 1969 studio album by the Who

Tommy is the fourth studio album by the English rock band the Who. It was first released as a double album on 23 May 1969 by Decca Records. The album was mostly composed by guitarist Pete Townshend as a rock opera that tells the story of Tommy Walker, a "deaf, dumb and blind" boy, including his experiences with life and his relationship with his family.

<i>Quadrophenia</i> 1973 studio album by The Who

Quadrophenia is the sixth studio album by the English rock band The Who, released as a double album on 26 October 1973 by Track Records. It is the group's second rock opera. Set in London and Brighton in 1965, the story follows a young mod named Jimmy and his search for self-worth and importance. Quadrophenia is the only Who album entirely composed by Pete Townshend.

<i>A Quick One</i> 1966 studio album by the Who

A Quick One is the second studio album by the English rock band the Who, released on 9 December 1966. The album was also released under the title Happy Jack on Decca Records in April 1967 in the United States, with a slightly altered track listing, where the song "Happy Jack" was a top 40 hit.

<i>Its Hard</i> 1982 studio album by the Who

It's Hard is the tenth studio album by English rock band the Who. Released on 4 September 1982, it was their last album until 2006's Endless Wire, and therefore the last to feature bassist John Entwistle, who died in 2002. It was also the final Who album with drummer Kenney Jones, as well as the last to be released on Warner Bros. Records in the US. It was released on Polydor Records in the UK, peaking at No. 11, and on Warner Bros. in the US where it peaked at No. 8 on the Billboard Pop Albums chart. The US rights to both this album and Face Dances subsequently reverted to the band, who then licensed them to MCA Records for reissue. The album achieved gold status by the RIAA in the US in November 1982.

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Psychoderelict is a concept album written, produced and engineered by Pete Townshend. Some characters and issues presented in this work were continued in Townshend's later opus The Boy Who Heard Music, first presented on The Who's album Endless Wire and then adapted as a rock musical.

<i>Lifehouse</i> (rock opera) science fiction rock opera by The Who

Lifehouse was a science fiction rock opera by the Who intended as a follow-up to Tommy. It was abandoned as a rock opera in favour of creating the traditional rock album Who's Next, though its songs would appear on various albums and singles by the Who, as well as Pete Townshend's solo albums. In 1978, aspects of the Lifehouse project were revisited by the Who on Who Are You. In 2000, Townshend revived the Lifehouse concept with his set Lifehouse Chronicles and the sampler Lifehouse Elements. On 1 May 2007, he released online software called The Lifehouse Method in which any "sitter" could create a musical "portrait". The site is now defunct.

<i>Lifehouse Chronicles</i> 2000 box set by Pete Townshend

Lifehouse Chronicles is a box set released in 2000 by Pete Townshend with the focus of the box being the formerly "abandoned" Lifehouse rock opera. The set contains song demos by Pete Townshend; including solo versions of "Baba O'Riley", "Won't Get Fooled Again", and "Who Are You", and the Lifehouse Radio Program. The box set release was followed by two Sadler's Wells Lifehouse concerts and the release of a live CD and video/DVD titled, respectively, Pete Townshend Live: Sadler's Wells 2000 and Pete Townshend – Music from Lifehouse.

<i>Endless Wire</i> (The Who album) 2006 studio album by the Who

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"A Quick One, While He's Away" is a 1966 song in six movements written by Pete Townshend and recorded by the Who for their second album A Quick One. The song also appears on the album BBC Sessions. In the performance on their Live at Leeds album Townshend calls the nine-minute "epic" track a "mini-opera" and introduces it as "Tommy's parents".

Pinball Wizard single

"Pinball Wizard" is a song written by Pete Townshend and performed by the English rock band the Who, and featured on their 1969 rock opera album Tommy. The original recording was released as a single in 1969 and reached No. 4 in the UK charts and No. 19 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100.

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Im Free (The Who song) single by The Who

"I'm Free" is a song written by Pete Townshend and performed by the Who on the album Tommy. The song has since been released as a single, becoming one of the best known tracks from Tommy.

"Christmas" is a song written by Pete Townshend and is the seventh song on The Who's rock opera Tommy. On the original LP, it opens the second side of the album.

East Village Opera Company American rock band

The East Village Opera Company (EVOC) is a rock group co-founded by vocalist Tyley Ross and arranger/multi-instrumentalist Peter Kiesewalter, both Canadians. Vocalist AnnMarie Milazzo was then recruited to provide female vocals. EVOC includes eight other members: two guitarists, a bassist, a percussionist, and a string quartet. EVOC could be described as a cover band whose niche is traditional operatic pieces that are then arranged to reflect more modern musical stylings.

<i>The Boy Who Heard Music</i> album

The Boy Who Heard Music is a rock opus that began life as an Internet novella written by musician and songwriter Pete Townshend. Townshend wrote in the foreword to the novella that he typically sketches out his opera in this way to lay out the plots and storylines, but in this case he published the material on an Internet blog site in 2005 and 2006, opening an interactive discussion with readers. The work was later released as a maxi-single and album by The Who and adapted as a rock opera.

<i>The Whos Tommy</i> musical written by Pete Townshend

The Who's Tommy is a rock musical with music and lyrics by Pete Townshend and book by Townshend and Des McAnuff, based on The Who's 1969 rock opera Tommy.

<i>Quadrophenia</i> (musical)

Quadrophenia is a stage musical based on the sixth studio album by English rock band The Who, released on 19 October 1973, and a film of the same name, released in 1979. The album was the group's second full-length rock opera, and the story reveals social, musical and psychological events from an English teenager's perspective. The music and songs were composed by Pete Townshend and the story is set in London and Brighton in 1964 and '65.

References

  1. Maconie, Stuart (2013). The People’s Songs: The Story of Modern Britain in 50 Records. p. 167.
  2. 1 2 Fleming, Colin (November 15, 2011). "The Who Made the Best Rock Opera Ever, but It's Not the One You Think". The Atlantic . Archived from the original on May 24, 2014. Retrieved May 24, 2014.
  3. Liner notes to Pacemaker Entertainment PACE-095, the 2014 CD reissue of the 1968 Influence LP, ABC 630
  4. 1 2 Strauss, Neil (September 3, 1998). "THE POP LIFE; The First Rock Opera (No, Not 'Tommy')". The New York Times . Retrieved May 24, 2014.
  5. Mervis, Scott (November 6, 2012). "The Who resurrects its 'other' rock opera, 'Quadrophenia'". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette . Archived from the original on May 25, 2014. Retrieved May 24, 2014.
  6. Wayne, Renee Lucas (October 5, 1989). "Fat Boys Built To Rap Opera Album Hits Stores Today". Philadelphia Daily News . Archived from the original on March 29, 2016. Retrieved May 24, 2014.
  7. Ruggieri, Melissa (April 29, 2014). "'American Idiot' brings heart of rock 'n' roll to stage". The Atlanta Journal-Constitution . Archived from the original on May 18, 2014. Retrieved May 24, 2014.
  8. Swed, Mark (August 17, 2007). "At last, a rock opera that sings". Boston.com . Archived from the original on May 25, 2014. Retrieved May 24, 2014.
  9. "Jesus Christ Superstar, a Rock Opera - Classic Rock Review". www.classicrockreview.com. Archived from the original on November 24, 2017.
  10. Clements, Andrew (February 8, 2002). "When is an opera not an opera?". The Guardian . Archived from the original on May 25, 2014. Retrieved May 24, 2014.
  11. Townshend, Pete (March 30, 2002). "Tommy, get your gun..." The Guardian . Archived from the original on May 25, 2014. Retrieved May 24, 2014.
  12. Brookes, Stephen (March 28, 2008). "Rock Opera. Seriously". The Washington Post . Archived from the original on June 6, 2014. Retrieved May 24, 2014.
  13. Pareles, Jon (April 28, 1996). "POP VIEW;Can Rock Play to the Broadway Crowd?". The New York Times . Archived from the original on May 25, 2014. Retrieved May 24, 2014.
  14. Midgette, Anne (January 28, 2006). "Cruising and Schmoozing While Looking for Mr. Right". The New York Times . Retrieved May 24, 2014.