Unless you were subjected to the painfully middle class upbringing that I was, turning down opportunity after opportunity to attend the latest plays and recitals in some stupid act of teenage rebellion – NO MUM I DON’T GIVE A SHIT ABOUT YO YO MA I’M PLAYING WITH MAH X-BRAIN – odds are the only thing you know about opera is ‘it ain’t over till the fat lady sings’. While this may be true of Wagner’s Ring Cycle, opera is a thoroughly badass artform, especially when placed in the hands of pop-music visionaries.
From a folk odyssey set in the deep south, to an electronic overture on the evolution of life as we know it, these are the top three alt-operas you most definitely need to get down with.
AnaÃ¯s Mitchell – Hadestown
Along with Joanna Newsom and Bon Iver, Mitchell can count herself a member of the infamous ‘indie-folk’ scene that swept the world way back before Marcus Mumford picked up that fucking banjo. Not content with having revolutionised a genre, AnaÃ¯s picked up her phone, called up some mates in the biz, and sat down to write what would prove to be the greatest folk opera the world has ever seen.
Set during the great depression in the deep south, Hadestown is a country retelling of the famous greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice – you know, that one where the best musician in the world tries to save his love from the depths of hades, only to lose her once more when he breaks the deal to not look back for her while leaving the underworld? Sound familiar? That’s because the Old Testament ripped it off in the story of Sodom & Gomorah #JustSayin.
Anyways, Hadestown follows almost exactly the same story, but substitutes a desert kingpin for the classic Hades figure, and gives the tragic part of Orpheus to Justin Vernon (Bon Iver). What follows is one of the most incredible (maybe they only most incredible) folk opera of all time. I encourage everyone to check it out.
Fucked Up – David Comes To Life
Alright, I’m only on the second entry and already the line between concept album and opera has become blurred, I hold my hands up. What leads me to classify Fucked Up’s incredible David Comes To Life as an opera is the fact that they were pretentious (says the guy writing this list) enough to create an 18 track album in four parts. To me, using that kind of classical arrangement makes something an opera, SO SUE ME.
David Comes To Life is, in essence, a love story between David, who works at a lightbulb factory, and Veronica, an activist protesting the lightbulb factory, during the late 70s and early 80s. Like all great operas, this is a story of love, loss and revenge, as the two lovers decide to bomb the factory, which kills Veronica in the process. The opera then goes a bit metal, as David becomes increasingly wary of the influence of the narrator on his life, starting to question whether Veronica truly died as part of an accident, or whether it was murder by some third party. The piece then becomes a comment on the nature of evil in fiction, sort of like a proto-Wreck It Ralph. Sounds cool? You’re damn right it does.
As you might expect from a band called Fucked Up, this isn’t always easy listening, but ultimately is one of those albums that once you get it, you’ll never let it go.
The Knife – Tomorrow In A Year
Perhaps best known to audiences around the world as the electronic outfit who originally recorded Heartbeats, as covered by Joze Gonzales and skinned over that fucking bouncing ball commercial everyone jizzed about back in the day, and now get referenced by that one friend who wants you to know that he knows the folk version isn’t the original, The Knife are also the band who wrote an opera about evolution.
Set over the entire history of life on Earth, from the first bacteria to the last gasp of existence, Tomorrow In A Year is an absolutely stunning undertaking. Experimenting with sound texture and interplay, the album lurches from order to chaos, drifting through intricate patterns only to dissipate at a moment’s notice. This is by far the most opera-y of the three albums featured, but if you can stand that certain kind of singing, then it’s definitely one to get your head round.
So there you go. Three great alt-operas that’ll help you round the dinner table when you finally become a fucking human being. Disagree? Leave it, yeah?