On paper, turning Pink Floyd’s rock opera The Wall into a classical opera was a no-brainer. The 1979 album sold 23 million copies and the 1982 film reached cult status, thereby guaranteeing box office success. Indeed, leading up to its world premiere, Opéra de Montreal (OdM)’s production of Another Brick in the Wall: The Opera had extended its run twice to 10 nights, selling 150% more tickets than for the company’s normal four-performance productions, based upon name recognition alone. But ticket buyers wanting to relive some of Pink Floyd’s catchy tunes were in for disappointment on opening night.
Composer Julien Bilodeau’s reinterpretation of the memorable musical source material unfortunately created a completely different feel to the work. For instance, the iconic song “Another Brick in the Wall” was handed over to the chorus, whose subdued performance lacked force and drive. A lack of rhythm and beat was consistent throughout, turning the entire evening into a sombre macabre affaire.
Most of the blame goes to Roger Waters. Pierre Dufour, former general director of the OdM and mastermind behind this project, wrote in the program that in their first discussions, Waters “confessed he had never heard a symphonic or operatic adaptation of popular music that wasn’t ridiculous! We knew right then that a simple musical adaptation would not suffice.” This constraint seems to handcuff Bilodeau who was composing his first opera.
In various interviews, Bilodeau seemed to be hung up on making the work operatic, rather than cohesive. Bilodeau also explained that he had to expand from the 18-page original libretto in order to create a full-length opera. He created arias for The Mother, The Father and other characters like Vera Lynn and padded lines for the chorus to increase the running time from the 90-minute rock opera to a 2-hour classical opera.
Musically, the first half felt like a concert of dissonant contemporary music, interspersed with choral music. After the intermission, once we got over the disappointment, the music felt more interesting, and the opera ended the courtroom scene and the group choral finale which were musically more lyrical.
Dramatically, I had mixed feelings. A common criticism of traditional opera is that the stories of Gods, Kings, Queens, aristocracy and the rich are out of touch with today’s society. By the same token, the story of a rich pop star, self-alienated from reality and his fans, felt self-indulgent and equally out of touch. However, any treatment of depression and mental illness is a positive.
The rock star Pink, sung authoritatively by baritone Étienne Dupuis, collapses on the concert stage after spitting in the face of a fan. After a scene at the clinic, Pink finds himself witness to a cross between this is your life and scrooge, beginning with his birth, through his childhood, to marriage, stardom, and isolation. Stage director Dominic Champagne placed Dupuis and the non-singing nine-year-old Pink in every scene as a continuity.
Soprano France Bellemare brought a clear full warm tone to the domineering mother, while tenor Jean-Michel Richer was an ardent father who died at the front during WWII leaving young Pink pinning for a father figure all his life. Soprano Caroline Bleau fit perfectly the part of the vampy money grubbing cheating red-head wife, both vocally and figuratively. Mezzo Stephanie Pothier brought a warm tone to British Forces Sweetheart Vera Lynn’s classic song “We’ll Meet Again,” but her French accent lacked authenticity. The rest of the leads, Dominic Lorange as the Teacher, Geoffroy Salvas as the Doctor and the Prosecutor, and Marcel Beaulieu as The Judge were all strong and menacing, especially in the trial scene. The choir prepared by Claude Webster sounded great in the many crowd scenes.
The minimal sets illuminated by video projected on three 4K HD walls were effective in creating the sombre mood. The left and right walls were reversed to demonstrate the prison setting. Costumes for the fascist scene were menacing. And the recorded machine gun shooting prisoners were poignant.
Another Brick in the Wall: The Opera runs March 11, 13, 14, 16, 18, 20, 22, 24, 26 (2 PM), 27, 2017 at 7:30 PM, Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier, Place des Arts, Montreal. www.operademontreal.com