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Trans-Siberian Orchestra Explains This Year's Trip to 'The Christmas Attic'

Bob Carey
Trans-Siberian Orchestra

External pressure is what inspired Trans-Siberian Orchestra to perform its second holiday rock opera, 1998's The Christmas Attic, during its annual North American tour this year.

"We never intended to do [1996's] Christmas Eve and Other Stories for 13 years in a row. It just sort of happened. … It's not broken, don't fix it," TSO co-founder and majordomo Paul O'Neill said during a conference call with reporters. "But two years ago I said, 'We're gonna risk it,' and we did [2004's] The Lost Christmas Eve; that did phenomenally, but it set loose a deluge of fan mail saying, 'When are you gonna do The Christmas Attic?' which is the only rock opera from the trilogy which we've never done live. … We decided we would debut the The Christmas Attic album this year, which would be a perfect way to end 2014."

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The two-company tour -- which is about to start rehearsals and kicks off Nov. 13 in Toledo and Omaha, Neb. -- also marks TSO's 16th year on the road, during which it's played more than 1,600 concerts for more than 11 million fans. "It's a little bit mind-boggling," says O'Neill, a self-proclaimed "pyro whore" who promises some dazzling new special effects for the upcoming shows. "Never could I have imagined it would have gone and gotten this big. … My personal theory is it was being in the right place at the right time. It was easier for us to jump the generation gap between all the people before us. There's something magical about watching a 15-year-old kid get into an Al Pitrelli guitar solo and his father jamming out there with him. That's [proof] enough time has gone by that everybody has rock in common now, which simply didn't exist when it was born in the '60s."

The TSO story continues to grow overseas as well; the troupe played to an estimated 2 million fans on New Year's Day in Berlin and has been touring Europe successfully. Next June, it will play its first outdoor festival date at the Wacken Open Air Festival in Germany.

Meanwhile, O'Neill and company have three more rock operas in motion. He says "Romanov: When Kings Must Whisper" about the 1917 Russian Revolution, is "about 75 percent done." "Letters From the Labyrinth" is "probably 90 percent done, and "The Path of the Fairytale Moon" is just getting started. At least one, O'Neill notes, has to be finished before the Wacken show, so "basically, whichever one gets done first" will be fast-tracked. Writing great songs is only half the battle; then you need to come up with the right vocalist to do the alchemy to bring it to life," O'Neill explains. "Basically we have all the [musical] tracks down, and we're going through the singers, and as we get the right singer for the right song, that goes in the can and the first one that's done gets turned in."

Also on the TSO docket is a live production of 2009's platinum Night Castle, which debuted at No. 5 on the Billboard 200 -- but don't hold your breath. "That's the one I'm dying to do, but it has to be done right," O'Neill says. "We've been designing it for, like, the last five years. It's the most ambitious, especially because it starts on a beach and goes all around the world." O'Neill estimates the Night Castle planning is "about 60 percent done" but is having trouble having one of its planned special effects, a large-scale version of the Times Square electronic ticker tape message board, approved by the government. "I want it to take your breath away, j