Rockras: Opera Meets Rock


Written by Betty Wood
Photos and illustrations by Slaven Vlasic & Various
31 Sunday 31st July 2011

Given the success of O's work with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and the Gruffalo soundtrack, this project will be a sure-fire success even if we don't know what a "psycho opera" is... We're thinking Prozac Nation by way of Sweeney Todd. O's not the only musician in recent years to turn their hand to the stage; back in March we interviewed Goldfrapp's Will Gregory about his role in bringing to life Piccard in Space, an opera about the guy who tested Einstein's theories by riding a hot-air balloon into space.

Blur frontmant Damon Albarn ventured even further from his Brit-pop roots back in 2007 when he collaborated with Tank Girl co-creator Jamie Hewlett and Chinese opera director Chen Shi-zheng to adapt the Chinese story Journey to the West. More recently, Albarn announced that in collaboration with theatre director Rufus Norris he would be creating an opera for the 2011 Manchester International Festival based on the life of the Elizabethan alchemist John Dee entitled Doctor Dee.

Of course the genre of the rock opera is well established, and has produced some of the most popular stage productions of modern theatre including Greenday's American Idiot. Centring on the lives of three disaffected men, the musical follows their escape from suburbia and their baby-boomer parents' restrictive lifestyles. The band wrote the all of the music whilst Billy Joe Armstrong wrote the book with director Michael Mayer. After a successful run in Berkeley CA in 2009, the show was moved onto Broadway where it ran from April 2010 until April 2011 through 422 performances. Armstrong performed the role of St. Jimmy occasionally throughout the run, and picked up two Tony Awards, a nomination for Best Musical and a Grammy.

Billy Joe Armstrong's Broadway debut as St Jimmy, image by Slaven Vlasic

Though probably most famous for its 1996 film version starring Madonna in her (only decent) acting role as Argentina's First Lady Eva Peron, Evita started out life as a concept album in 1976. After initial success, it was produced on the West End stage before being made into a film in the mid 90s starring Madonna, Antonio Bandaras and (of all people) Jimmy Nail.

The Flaming Lips - Yoshimi Battles The Pink... by Warner-Music

But back to decent music; the Flaming Lips announced earlier this year via Billboard that they're finally working on the stage adaptation of their 2002 concept album Yoshmi Battles the Pink Robots with Jersey Boys' director Des McAnuff. It's set to feature around 30 of the bands' tracks from Yoshimi as well as Soft Bulletin and At War With the Mystics. McAnuff is well versed in adapting concept albums for the stage having previously worked on Tommy by the Who (most frequently voted as the best concept album of all time).

And Flaming Lips will be in good company when they eventually get Yoshimi onto the stage as there's ongoing talks of The Decemberists' frontman Colin Meloy developing a stage version of the bands' 2007 album The Hazards of Love, and rumour has it that Bjork is collaborating with French director Michael Gondry to create a "scientific musical" for IMAX theatres in the not too distant future... Watch this space.

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