Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Operamania 101: Battle of the Drama Queens

In 1975, Queen released what was probably the most seminal record of their career, A Night At The Opera. When Bohemian Rhapsody was released, it was considered to be a surprise hit due to the fact that the song's structure was so disjointed.

The magnum opus can be broken out into 6 distinct styles:
Introduction (0:00-0:48)
Ballad (0:48-2:36)
Guitar solo (2:36-3:03)
Opera (3:03-4:07)
Hard rock (4:07-4:55)
Outro (4:55-5:55)

Now hearing the song as a whole, one might try to pish posh that there's any (psuedo) opera in Bohemian Rhapsody. But au contraire, there is a certain operatic logic given the multi-tracked voices, full choral treatment and aria-like solos in the midsection of the song.

Besides the glam rock, hard rock, prog rock influences and the fact that Freddy Mercury often sang all the way up into the upper reaches of the musical scale with his tenor voice, one could even argue that Queen's music with its epic sound definitely has operatic overtones to it. Hello, Show Must Go On and We Are The Champions?

Even their 1986 ballad, Who Wants To Live Forever, is wrought with emotions that can be found in any tragic opera. So much so that soprano Sarah Brightman decided to cover the song in 1997.

With 26 million albums sold, Sarah Brightman who possesses a 3 octave range, is the world's biggest selling soprano of all time.

She is credited for paving the way for other operatic crossover artists such as Il Divo, Josh Groban, Charlotte Church, Russell Watson and Andrea Bocelli, with whom she sang a duet with for Time to Say Goodbye (con te partiro). That song went on to sell over 5 million copies worldwide. Brightman also put forth an album of operatic arias, called Classics that included a solo version of Time to Say Goodbye.

But like Freddy Mercury, Sarah Brightman also succeeded in dabbling in different genres of music. She mixed her classical vocal stylings with electronic dance music, middle eastern music and gothic music.

Besides performing with all the usual suspects of classical tenors and countertenors, Brightman had duets with Kiss' Paul Stanley and Anne Murray, of all random people. Oh, and she not only sings in English but also in Spanish, French, Latin, German, Italian, Russian, Hindi and Mandarin, as the world witnessed in the opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

As a fan of both Mercury and Brightman, I can't decide which one is the bigger diva. Both artists are revered for their vocal prowess, on stage glamour and theatrical showmanship. Both artists learned how to maximize the use of many different forms of music to reach a broad audience and endeared themselves to their millions of fans.

Mercury once said the reason why their concert was so large scale was that "We're the Cecil b. Demille of rock and roll, always wanting to do things bigger and better."

Just swap out rock and roll for classical/opera in Brightman's case and I think it's fair to say that that sentiment would apply to both superstar's stratospheric career.

~ Ling Chan

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