Waters Opera Memorializes French Revolution
Excerpted from the magazine for Billboard.com.Back in his days with Pink Floyd, Roger Waters took on the big issues of life. In high-concept projects like "Dark Side of the Moon" and "The Wall," he grappled with such challenging topics as social oppression, the long shadows of war, the interplay of money and power, and the abuse of authority.
Since 1989, Waters wrestled with many of those same concerns in a genre new to him: an opera, set during the French Revolution. The result, "Ca Ira," arrives in stores Sept. 27 from Columbia/Sony BMG Masterworks. Spread over two Super Audio CDs and accompanied by a "making of" DVD and a lavish 60-page booklet, the recording features a first-rate cast, including bass baritone Bryn Terfel, soprano Ying Huang and tenor Paul Groves.
The opera's setting and themes were inspired by a libretto written for the French Revolution's bicentennial by songwriter Etienne Roda-Gil and his wife, Nadine, who also created gorgeous illustrations for their co-written text. (Some of those images are included in the booklet.) Introduced to the couple by a mutual friend, Waters took on the task of writing the opera's music, adding another dimension to these artistic portraits of characters like King Louis Capet, Marie Antoinette and the revolutionaries who changed the course of history.
"Eventually, though," Waters recalls, "Sony urged me to use English instead of French, so I wrote an English version of Etienne and Nadine's work, and then I felt compelled to expand on their original text. Their work was really a series of gorgeous tableaux, and I added more personal narrative and history for some of the characters."
Waters' music recalls the lush, hyper-Romantic sound of opera composers like Puccini. "[He is] definitely an inspiration," concurs Waters, who also sees commonalities between some of Puccini's own music and his own: "After all, his opera 'Tosca' takes place in a police state."
It will not come as much surprise to Pink Floyd fans that "Ca Ira" also contains a number of non-musical elements. Waters' full concept involves sound effects, a number of non-singing roles and a staging inspired by the theatrical conceit of a three-ring circus. "All of this," he concedes, "would be hugely expensive to mount." As a result, the opera has yet to be staged live, though a concert performance is planned for November in Rome.
Waters sees strong parallels between the turbulence of the French Revolution and contemporary geopolitics.
"All my life," muses Waters, whose father died in World War II, "I have been preoccupied with the great tragedy of losing family in wars. The pain of losing a parent or a child in [an act of] violence that is purposefully and directly generated by political forces is in a certain way harder to bear that if someone dies in, say, an accident. The death feels more preventable."
Excerpted from the Aug. 27, 2005, issue of Billboard. The full original text is available to Billboard.com subscribers.
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