Most people would not even begin to put opera and rock in the same category, one with its bonnets, petticoats, and adherence to musical technique and conventions, and the other with its painted faces, outrageous hairdos, and free performance style. Yet, music scholars have argued otherwise. Both genres focus on the spectacle, or the idea of putting on a big show, topped with elaborate costumes and lighting effects. The singers of both genres of music generally tend to exhibit virtuosity, or vocal flexibility through their uses of runs, sustained (or held) notes, and leaps from one register in their voice to another. Additionally, both genres are known for their emphasis on the “high voice.” Of course, opera singers are always associated with shattering the glass when they hit their high Cs. In rock, the technique of screaming, which has become more popular in recent decades with such bands as Linkin Park, has set the precedence for other artists of this genre to imitate. But, the form, or the musical structure of both genres may be their biggest dividing factor. Rock songs, like pop songs, usually consist of a few verses, a chorus, and a bridge, whereas operas are comprised of arias (solos), recitatives (speech-like action between multiple characters), scenes (sound similar to arias, but, with several characters), and chorus numbers (sung by the entire cast).
Interestingly enough, the rock song, “Bohemian Rhapsody” has been said to possess an opera-like form. It alternates between solo sections and sections of Freddie Mercury’s back-up vocalists singing along with him. Furthermore, the piece contains a dramatic theme similar to those of operas. The lyrics talk about murder and descending to the underworld, set forth by the lines, “Mama, just killed a man,” and “So you think you can stone me and spit in my eye?,” a line alluding symbolically to the afterlife.
These are my thoughts, and I’d love to hear yours in the “Leave a Comment” section found at the top or bottom of the page! Below you will find the Queen official music video of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and a video from a 1982 performance of Gluck’s opera, Orfeo ed Euridice. In the Orfeo scene, Orpheus (played by a woman) wants to bring his lover, Euridice back to earth from the underworld. Yet, Hades has told him that in order to do this, he must not look at Euridice or she will die, though Euridice is unaware of this condition and desires only to gaze into her lover’s eyes. Do you see any parallels between these two works and their themes, either through the stories they tell or through the way the music is set up?
See the “Help! What Do I Write About?” tab if you have questions about what to discuss musically, or even if you have writer’s block!
Delochs, Marian. “‘Orfeo ed Euridice.’ 9/12: ‘Che fiero momento’ *J BAKER/E SPEISER [w/ENG.
Subtitles].”‘ Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 30 January 2010. Web. 10 June 2015.
McLeod, Ken. “Bohemian Rhapsodies: Operatic Influence on Pop Music.” Popular Music 20.2
(2001): 189-203. Web.
Queen Official. “Queen-Bohemian Rhapsody (Official Video).” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 1 August 2008. Web. 9 June 2015.