The rebirth of rock opera

21 02 2009

You thought rock opera died with Quadrophenia or, perhaps, Queensryche’s Operation: Mindcrime.  You were wrong…partially at least.

For the last few months I’ve pretty much ignored the big ad on the back of my Mojo magazines for Monkey Journey to the West, the most recent multi-media project from Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewett, collaboratively known for their Gorillaz projects.

The wiki entry for the project reads (in part)

Monkey: Journey to the West is a stage adaptation of the 16th Century Chinese novel Journey to the West, by Wu Cheng’en. It was conceived and created by the Chinese actor and director Chen Shi-zheng, together with the British musician Damon Albarn and British artist Jamie Hewlett. However, the original idea came from Jean-Luc Choplin, head of the Chatelet Theatre in Paris

*     *     *

Billed as a “circus opera“, the show is Hewlett and Albarn’s first major collaboration since Gorillaz. Albarn composed the musical score while Hewlett designed the visual concept, set and costumes. The adaptation for stage has been written by Shi-zheng, who also directs the production. Dramaturgy is by David Greenspan. The show features Chinese singers and 70 Chinese acrobats and martial artists. The orchestra put together for the production includes members of the UK Chinese Music Ensemble (led by Cheng Yu), Demon Strings and Sense of Sound.

In addition to the production, the Manchester International Festival also ran a programme of educational workshops in local schools, in partnership with the Chinese Arts Centre. In the programme, local children were introduced to the tale of Journey to the West, and learnt about various aspects of Chinese culture, music and dance, including mask-making, puppet-making, Tai Chi and Kung Fu.

Hewlett and Albarn included characters from Monkey: Journey to the West in an animation sequence titled “Journey to the East.” The BBC used the sequence to introduce coverage of the 2008 Summer Olympics, held in Beijing

Here’s the feature one trailer

I was really surprised to find this project was that ambitious, that expansive.  In the strictest sense, it’s not a rock and roll opera.  In fact, it’s more truly a multi-media version of traditional Chinese opera.  With Albarn involved, there are definitely rock elements.  Regardless of how one might label it, the project, to me, is stunning in its daringness.  It’s outside the box (to borrow the overused corporate cliche.)  To me, that makes it worth a look or listen.




One response

21 02 2009
Nigel Tomm

I’m Nigel Tomm – thanks for cool info.

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