Nov
09

Rocking at the Opera

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Picture an enormous stage with lights and a full orchestra. Actresses and actors portraying dramatic characters, all while singing rock music. Combine all of this and you have a classic-rock opera!

Tommy

Tommy by The Who is one of the best-known rock operas. Tommy the album debuted in May of 1969. This double album was released by Decca and Polydor Records in the USA and Track Records in the UK. Since it was released, the album has sold more than 20 million copies and has earned countless awards.

More than twenty years later, this album took to the stage with its premiere in 1993, in San Diego at La Jolla Playhouse. Broadway would not see Tommy until 1995 when it opened at the St. James Theatre. The show had an amazing 889 presentations before is closed.

The story of Tommy is about the journey of a young boy who is traumatized after seeing a murder. In the stage version, he sees the death of his mother’s lover at the hands of his father, but in the film adaptation, it is his father who is killed by the lover. After witnessing this event, the boy is rendered blind, deaf and dumb. Tommy is about four when this tragic event occurred.

The story then progresses through various points in the boy’s life. The boy is tormented by his peers until he proves his prowess playing pinball. Pinball Wizard was a number one single from the album. The boy does not emerge from his catatonic state until his mother shatters a mirror in front of him. There are a few dramatic scenes after this point, which show how Tommy adapts to being back among the living. The stage version ends with Tommy reuniting with his family.

Hair

This political opera made its debut in 1967. It premiered off-Broadway at Joseph Papp’s Public Theatre. The music was composed by Galt MacDermot, and the libretto was written by Gerome Ragni and James Rado. The musical was such a success that it moved onto Broadway in 1968. While on Broadway, it ran for 1,750 performances. The musical was adapted into both a film, which aired in 1979, and an album.
The Story is about a tribe of people who live in New York. The Aquarius Hippies are fighting to end the draft. Claude the main character is trying to choose between siding with his friends and avoiding the draft, or following the conservative views of his parents.

The entire production is extremely political in nature. It revolves around the Vietnam War and the draft. It dramatizes the hippie struggle against the establishment. It focuses on the entire cultural revolution of the sixties. Sex, drugs and rock and roll all play major roles in this spectacular stage show.

Jesus Christ Superstar

This is one of the first collaborations between composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrist Tim Rice. Originally, this opera was only to be a concept album. It was released in 1969, and featured the vocal talent of Ian Gillian, the lead singer of Deep Purple.

On the 12th of October, the opera moved onto Broadway. Strangely, there had been a number of off-Broadway productions before this time, including one done by a local high school. These unauthorized productions resulted in a number of lawsuits and a change in the copyright laws.

The plot of the story revolves around the last days of Jesus and his Disciples. The story focuses on Judas and Jesus. Although the story uses these characters as a focus, it is not biblically accurate. These inaccuracies, among other aspects of the plot and dialogue, lead to several controversies surrounding the production.
Christian groups were offended by both the characters of Judas and that of Christ. The story portrays Jesus as being more of a man than as the son of God. Christians consider many aspects of the production to be blasphemous. The Jewish community is greatly offended by what they feel is the general anti-Semitic tone of the play.
Controversies aside, the production was an enormous hit both on Broadway and around the world. The opera has, in fact, won numerous awards, including five Tony Awards in 1972 and the Theatre World Award.

Rock opera is continuing to evolve, and new and exciting productions are being produced every year. Often labelled as rock musicals or operettas, these shows do fall into the genre of rock opera.

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