Chris Scanlon

Return of the Rock Opera?

When did writing and performing rock operas come back into style? Anais Mitchell just performed her rock opera "Hadestown" in Turners Falls, MA recently and it was all the rage amongst my friends. The Decemberists just pulled one off to critical acclaim. I'm guessing these artist never listened to Yes, Rush or Emerson, Lake & Palmer when they were kids, because if they had they wouldn't touch a concept album with a ten foot metaphor. Thanks to these artists and others, the rock opera/concept album became a used and abused format (though I bet someone is going to challenge me on 2112 by Rush). Music journalists took aim at artists who tried to do more than just put a collection of songs together for an album. I sadly watched my favorite songwriter growing up, Pete Townshend of The Who (who pioneered the format), get skewered by critics as he put forth grandiose rock operas and concept pieces as a solo artist. Eventually it became really uncool to release a concept album, often earning the artist scorn, laughs or worse: they were ignored. 

But I find this new trend encouraging. I love this format and believe in the power of telling a long form story with rock/pop music: the rock opera should not be underestimated. 

Since I was twelve I've been plotting various rock operas in my head. Lucky for you none of them came to light. So I have to ask myself: is there still a rock opera within me and what story could it tell?

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