Is there really anything better to do on a Thursday night than eat crispy tuna rolls served with miso soup and have insightful conversation, debating the differences between a rock opera and a musical? Don’t get me wrong, I whole heartedly love Izzy, but Grey’s Anatomy and the rest of the Thursday night lineup has got nothing on Elton John as The Pinball Wizard, in The Who’s Tommy.
In all seriousness where is that line that takes a musical and turns it operatic? What exactly is it that separates one from the other? It was mentioned early in the conversation, that musicals have musically trained actor, while rock operas star professional musicians, often from bands. Now I get that there was nothing “rockstar” about Rick Moranis who played the lead in Little Shop of Horrors, and I’m not even going to attempt to try making him look cool here; he’s Rick Moranis. Without question, I feel the need to toss this theory right out the window because it would imply that Hedwig and the Angry Inch is a music, while Evita becomes a rock opera based on cast alone. Hell, for that matter, based strictly on the above theory, Blaze of Glory would be considered a rock opera regardless of the fact that it basically contains no real musicial aspect, unless you count its [fairly shitty] soundtrack. Can anyone else see the cluster-fuck forming here?
Let’s look at what opera is: an extended dramatic composition in which all parts are sung to instrumental accompaniment that usually includes arias, choruses, and recitatives, and that sometimes includes ballet. Now lets for the purpose of this blog, let’s rock that up a bit. A rock opera is a music album or stage production that intends to evoke the sense of musical drama commonly associated with opera. It differs from a conventional album because of the way the album is created. Generally albums includes songs that are unrelated to each other in terms of storyline. A rock opera however is more like a book, and its songs like chapters. However, the rock opera style overlaps considerably with concept albums and song cycles. A more technical explanation could be given due to the fact that the rock opera tells a coherent story, often with first-person lyrics sung by characters; while a concept album or song cycle sets a mood or maintains a theme.
On a related note, does any film with a plot consisting primarily in a distinct musical setting constitute a lifetime membership into the genres musical or rock opera? I mean, can we really make it that black or white? For example, let’s look at the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine. It is of my opinion that the music in this film seems to take precedence over the actual plot. As stated above, story plays a dynamic role in differentiating what genre to place it in. However, should we simply throw it into the musical genre, based solely on the fact that it doesn’t comply with all the needs of a rock opera? I personally don’t think so, which leaves me reaching for a third option, the epic music video. You know, “Thriller,” “Purple Rain,” and “The Wall.”
But what about the Who’s Tommy? Rock opera or epic music video?
I can logically see both sides here. Since it technically is a visual reference to an album, I could justify putting it into the epic genre. However, I won’t be doing so based on one distinct condition; the movie version stars artists other than the Who. This fact alone makes it different from a music video, as we very seldom see Modest Mouse playing “Soul Meets Body” in the new Death Cab for Cutie video. This fact alone leaves me no choice but vote rock opera.
Honestly, I’m starting to get the feeling that the rock opera is a made up concept put into existence with no purpose other than to make pseudo-intellectual music snobs feel less nerdy for liking musicals. I know I personally have a hard time comparing the Rocky Horror Picture Show to Oklahoma, but without structure or rules, I functionally have no way of separating the two. I mean, I guess I could point out that Rocky Horror doesn’t have a hoe-down, only hoes, but I’m not sure that really clarifies anything. Not that anything was clear to begin with.
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tagged: clusterfuck, concept album, epic music video, rock opera | 3 Comments »