MONTREAL — It had all the trappings of a Hollywood premiere — the red carpet, television lights and cameras, and even a world-famous rock star. But this was grand opera.
On Saturday, Opéra de Montréal premiered “Another Brick in the Wall: The Opera,” Julien Bilodeau’s remake of Roger Waters’ Pink Floyd rock-opera “The Wall,” at Place des Arts’ Salle-Wilfrid Pelletier. It was spectacular, and spectacularly entertaining, befitting its part in Montreal’s 375th anniversary celebration. The opera is sung in English with French and English super-titles.
Waters, who was in Saturday’s audience, said in the program notes, “I could not have known in 1977 when I ‘spat on the fan’ in Montreal, or in 1979 when I wrote ‘The Wall,’ that walls would come to have such a profound significance in the 21st century.”
“The Wall,” 1979’s best-selling Pink Floyd album, became “Pink Floyd: The Wall,” a 1982 film. More recently Waters’ wildly successful solo tour “The Wall Live,” which played 219 dates 2010-13 to 41.1 million people worldwide, led to a subsequent 2014 film, “Roger Waters: The Wall.”
Bilodeau’s opera uses Waters’ lyrics, music and plot, a fictional biography of a character Pink Floyd, using elements from Waters’ and other band members’ lives. In a nutshell, Pink has a nervous breakdown after abusing a fan during a concert. Institutionalized, he relives his past, from his oppressed childhood after his father is killed in World War II, to becoming a rock star, to protesting the Vietnam War, to a marriage that is betrayed.
Pink even begins hallucinating that he has become a white supremacist dictator before being forced to confront himself. It’s a particularly poignant tale that will be especially
familiar to baby-boomers.
Bilodeau, a 42-year-old Montreal composer, has crafted an exciting score taking the Waters original to new and spectacular heights. Styles incorporate a broad palette of contemporary classical and operatic genres, with just a touch of the original rock flavor. The result is the sound of a sophisticated and dramatic film score, delivered subtly and powerfully by the Orchestre Metropolitain and Chorus of the Opéra de Montréal conducted by Alain Trudel.
Propelling the score as well as the action was the vocal line of the protagonist Pink. Montreal baritone Étienne Dupuis delivered Pink’s engaging pop-style tonal lyricism with warmth and charisma, as well as establishing a rock star presence.
Interestingly, the other characters’ vocal, although tonal and attractive, often didn’t reflect the text; rather, they blended into the score. Notable were two sopranos, Caroline Bleau’s brilliant performance as Pink’s failed love interest, and France Bellemare’s powerful presence as his mother. The remainder of the all-Canadian cast was first-rate.
But the music was only half the story. Dominic Champagne’s staging was nothing short of spectacular, perhaps best described as a blend of superstar rock concert and the Metropolitan Opera. Effectively using ever-morphing projected video, from realistic film to abstract styles, massive moving and evolving stage pieces, and “everything but the kitchen sink,” Champagne told his part of the story cohesively and powerfully.
As with rock opera, there are few truly tender or intimate moments, yet there are heart wrenching and powerful emotional ones. Whether Bilodeau’s “ Another Brick in the Wall: The Opera” will have longevity in the opera repertoire or not, it is certain to be a big hit right now — as it was with Saturday’s thrilled audience.