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A rock opera is a musical work that presents a storyline told over multiple parts, songs or sections. A rock opera differs from a conventional rock album, which usually includes songs that are not unified by a common theme or narrative. More recent developments include metal opera and rap opera (sometimes also called hip-hopera). A rock opera tells a coherent story, though details are often vague. A rock opera is similar to a concept album (of which it is a subset), though the latter may simply set a mood or maintain a theme.


The July 4, 1966 edition of RPM Magazine (published in Toronto) notes that "Bruce Cockburn and Mr [William] Hawkins are working on a Rock Opera, operating on the premise that to write you need only 'something to say'." The Cockburn / Hawkins rock opera seems not to have been completed, though some songs from the project may be among the Cockburn and Hawkins compositions that appeared on 3's a Crowd's 1968 album, Christopher's Movie Matinee.

Alternatively, the term rock opera may have originated at an informal gathering of Pete Townshend, guitarist for The Who, and some friends at some point that same year (i.e., 1966). Townshend is said to have played a comedy tape to his friends called Gratis Amatis, and one of his friends is said to have made the comment that the odd song was a rock opera. (Kit Lambert, the Who's producer, is then said to have exclaimed "Now there's an idea!")

Whatever the origin of the term, the earliest completed and recorded example of a 'rock opera' appeared later in 1966 - Townshend's A Quick One While He's Away on The Who's second album, A Quick One. It was a nine-minute suite of short songs telling the operatic story of the seduction of a young girl guide (Townshend) by an engine driver named Ivor (played by John Entwistle). Kit Lambert had the original idea for a 9-minute suite. There was 10 minutes of space left on the LP, so Lambert suggested to Pete Townshend that he write "something linear... perhaps a 10 minute song." Townshend responded by saying that rock songs are "2:50 by tradition!" Lambert then told Townshend that he should write a 10 minute story comprised of 2:50 songs.

Then an Alley, also known as The Beat Opera, was conceived and staged by Tito Schipa, Jr, composer and director, son of the tenor Tito Schipa, at the Piper Club in Romemarker, Italymarker, in May 1967. While Then an Alley, an adaptation of 18 Bob Dylan songs made to fit into a scenic background, made a moderate splash in its country of origin, it went completely unnoticed elsewhere in the world. Schipa Jr. later went on to write and stage the work Orfeo 9 at the Sistina Theater in Romemarker. It became the first ever staged original Italian rock opera when it debuted in January 1970. Orfeo 9 became a double album and a film under the musical direction of future Academy Award winner Bill Conti.

In October 1967 the British group Nirvana (not to be confused with the American band of the 1980s and 90s also called Nirvana) released The Story of Simon Simopath, what might be the first entire album by a rock band to comprise a single story. In November 1967 the Montrealmarker group Influence travelled to New Yorkmarker to record what they called a 'mini-opera', "Mad Birds Of Prey", and other songs for their only album. In August 1968, The Family Tree released Miss Butters, the birth-to-death story of a schoolteacher. The Pretty Things released S.F. Sorrow, in December 1968, which similarly told the story of protagonist Sebastian F. Sorrow's life from the cradle to the grave and from joy to misery.

In April 1969 Pete Townshend and The Who released Tommy, the first of The Who's two full-scale rock operas (the other is Quadrophenia), and the first musical work explicitly billed as a rock opera. [In some older publications it is called Tommy (1914–1984).] The album was largely composed by Townshend, with two tracks contributed by bassist John Entwistle and one attributed to drummer Keith Moon, although actually written by Townshend.An earlier song by blues artist Sonny Boy Williamson II, "Eyesight to the Blind", was also incorporated. Tommy remains one of the most famous rock operas, with concert, film, ballet, and theatrical productions mounted over the course of four decades. The Who would later release another rock opera, Quadrophenia (1973), also made into a film, and a mini rock-opera, Wire & Glass (2006), from Townshend's larger concept of The Boy Who Heard Music, and included on The Who's 2006 album Endless Wire.

In October 1969, The Kinks released Arthur their own attempt at a rock opera, released just after Tommy, with great commercial and critical success. It deals with a British man, Arthur, who moves to Australia. In the first half of the 1970s the Kinks released a series of rockoperas: Preservation: Act 1 (1973), Preservation: Act 2 (1974), Soap Opera (1975) and Schoolboys in Disgrace (1976). All these albums were followed by a series of stage productions, in which the band members, and additional personnel, acted as musical and theatre performers.


Townshend's rock opera influenced many, including composer Andrew Lloyd Webber who, with lyricist Tim Rice, composed Jesus Christ Superstar which was first recorded and released as a concept album in 1970. The money made from album sales was used to fund the subsequent stage production in late 1971, which had been Lloyd Webber and Rice's original vision. Jesus Christ Superstar was explicitly billed as a "rock opera" and though it first appeared in recorded form, it became far more famous as a Broadwaymarker musical, leading it to be called a "rock musical", blurring the distinction between the two terms. Webber and Rice's last collaboration was Evita, which is supposedly considered a rock opera, along with Broadway musical styled songs. The show (like Jesus Christ Superstar) is told entirely in song and, at first, producers thought that it would be a flop on the Broadway stage. However, it won seven Tony Awards, including "Best Musical".

In 1972, David Bowie released his rock opera The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, the story of a rock star who is told by aliens to write music in the years preceding the end of the world

In 1973, The Who released their second full rock opera Quadrophenia. It is about an early 1960s teen living with a personality disorder.

Also in 1973 Lou Reed released Berlin, a tragic rock opera about a doomed couple, which addresses themes of drug use, depression and suicide.

Genesis wrote the rock opera The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, a surreal story about a young man searching for his missing brother.

In 1979, Pink Floyd's rock opera The Wall, written primarily by Roger Waters, was released. As with Tommy, The Wall has been staged as an elaborate theatre performance: by Pink Floyd in 1980 and 1981, and by Waters in 1990 (at the Berlin Wallmarker). The plot was also used for the feature film Pink Floyd The Wall, and Waters has been adapting the story for n elaborate stage production.


Rivers Cuomo had planned to produce an album called Songs From The Black Hole, which was to be a rock opera about a group of people pursing an adventure in outer space to rescue an unidentified person or object. After the project was then abandoned in 1995, the band replaced with their album, Pinkerton. Most of the demo recordings are available, legally or as bootlegs, though four remain unreleased. In 1995 David Bowie made the rock opera 1. Outside, a groundbreaking album for Bowie's 1990s career. In 1996, John Miner staged the rock opera Heavens Cafe at the Flamingo Theater in Las Vegasmarker, and again in Los Angelesmarker in 2004. That same year, Marilyn Manson, released Antichrist Superstar and subsequently created a reverse trilogy with Mechanical Animals in 1998 and Holy Wood in 2000.

Some heavy metal bands have released albums inspired by rock operas, often in a progressive metal framework. In some cases they have overlapped considerably with the format of metal concept albums. Queensrÿche's fourth album Operation: Mindcrime expanded the genre from their previous three rock operas by bridging rock opera with real opera and a stage production complete with the story playing on jumbotrons in live versions and DVD releases. Albums by Opeth (My Arms, Your Hearse), W.A.S.P. (The Crimson Idol, The Neon God: Part 1 - The Rise, The Neon God, Pt. 2: The Demise), Savatage, Dream Theater (Scenes From a Memory), Ayreon, Kamelot, Blind Guardian, Dimmu Borgir, Pain of Salvation, Protest the Hero (Kezia) and Epidemia are a few examples of metal opera albums. The Italian power metal band Rhapsody of Fire (formerly "Rhapsody") released several complementary albums that each continued a single mega-"DragonRock" opera. King Diamond has almost exclusively released metal opera albums, with only two albums containg stand alone tracks (though even these albums have several related tracks each). Punk rock opera is a term coined by the punk band Green Day to describe their 2004 album, American Idiot, which was written about a teenage boy who runs away from home to find himself and how his life is before and after. Their 2009 follow-up album, 21st Century Breakdown, continues the rock opera style. Rock operas have been written in other languages as well, such as Gaia II - La Voz Dormida in 2005 by the Spanish rock group Mägo de Oz. On September 22, 2005, rock band Ludo released a rock opera entitled Broken Bride. In 2006, New Jersey rock quintet My Chemical Romance released a rock opera, titled The Black Parade, about a man dying from cancer. Another one is a project by Edguy's singer and main songwriter Tobias Sammet. The opera is called Avantasia and has received critical success and has spawned three albums and two EP's. Each features many well known rock musicians. In 2008, Dutch band Xystus, along with an eighty-piece orchestra and four additional vocalists, released Equilibrio, which involved a stage show in addition to the studio album. The Protomen, an American rock band, released two rock operas, the Protomen, and its prequel, Act II: The Father Of Death in 2005 and 2009, respectively. Most notably, both albums dealt with the fictional video game character, Mega Man.

2009 saw the release of several different Rock Operas. In March, Folk Rock group The Decemberists released a rock opera entitled The Hazards of Love, telling the story of a doomed love affair between an innocent young woman and a cursed man. That same month, Mastodon released its fourth full length album entitled "Crack the Skye". Its story tells of a quadraplegic space traveler who can only travel through astral projection. In May,Green Day released an album entitled 21st Century Breakdown. It follows two lovers named Christian and Gloria as they struggle with religious beliefs and rebellion in the 21st Century. This is Green Day's second rock opera, the first being the critically acclaimed and award-winning American Idiot released in 2004..


  2. ( Decemberists' Colin Meloy talks Hazards of Love Paste Magazine.)

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