Should the Byrds change their lyrics?
I wonder if Pete Townsend ever contemplated changing the lyrics to “My Generation” to “Hope I die before the fat lady sings?”
In an age when musical offerings are as diverse as ever and niche music is gaining sales success through efficient digital deliver systems, it’s almost anachronistic to consider the foray of rock stars into opera.
Yet if you hang out in rock circles online or in your life you may not even be aware of the proliferation of Opera composers with familiar names. I know I wasn’t, until I read an article by Washington Post reporter Anne Midgette. As a trained critic Midgette brought perspective and analysis to this movement, which you may be surprised, contains some true luminaries including Sir Paul McCartney and the John Paul Jones.
Now the thought of Led Zeppelin’s bass player composing an opera is pretty far fetched, yet Jones has squelched all chances of a Zep reunion as a result of his involvement with one of the oldest forms of music communication on the planet. Though his proposed opera is a work in progress, many musicians, whose busts are on display in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, have finished products attracting the attention of the libretto loving sect. For these artists, opera is opening up new challenges without boundaries.
One of the leading practitioners is The Police’s Stewart Copeland. His revolutionary precision statements during the eighties are a key reason Sting sits in the Hall, but now his interests lies in the art form whose star composers died hundreds of years ago. Copeland’s fourth Opera “The Tell Tale Heart” has won over hardened Opera purists. Los Angeles Times critic, Mark Swed was quoted in Midgette’s article as saying “I am… happy to report that an old rocker can learn new tricks.”
To some this comes as blasphemy, on both sides of the fence mind you, but with Midgette’s prominence as a classical critic and her recent recognition of the importance of this movement a whole new light will be shed on this phenomenon. As Midgette boldly states to the ears of those who prefer to hold spectacles in their hands as a opposed to a cold beer, “”It’s gratifying to watch high-profile artists take serious artistic risks and even gradually, get better at them.” And yet she still manages to bash The Who’s “Tommy” as unacceptable in the field.
Is it important to recognize rock musicians as opera composers? Does it matter? As the followers of classic rock artist should we at least sample this work to see if it may open our minds to new horizons? Did you pay attention when Luciano Pavarotti appeared on Saturday Night Live with Vanessa L. Williams?
Most genres of music are protected by vanguards whom feel they are filters of right and wrong. These self declared tastemakers decide whether something fits into their definition of the category. However, the digital revolution has lessen the impact of such gatekeepers and allows artists real freedom to express themselves. I don’t think Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters scored and wrote an opera (“Ca Ira”) for acceptance into their coveted world. I believe he wanted to make an artistic expression and not be limited to the three-minute attention span of a pop crowd.
So rock fans I’m not saying you have to like this trend or even go out and buy this music, just people don’t put them d-d-down, just because they g-g-get around the opera house.