Are Rock and Opera More Similar Than We Think? An Exploration of “Bohemian Rhapsody” and Its Operatic Tendencies

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!

Works Cited:

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.

4 thoughts on “Are Rock and Opera More Similar Than We Think? An Exploration of “Bohemian Rhapsody” and Its Operatic Tendencies

  1. I believe everything relates to everything and you can make connections between anything, especially in music. Even our modern pop and rock music is built on the classical roots that came before it. Our ideas of tonality, form, cadence structure, voicing, ect. have been around since the Classical period. But in Bohemian Rhapsody, it is no coincidence that it has an opera like quality. I mean heck the album name is called A Night at the Opera. All the members in Queen are classically educated and know what they are doing. They called it a Rhapsody because it is written in Rhapsody form. Tons of their songs are written to mesh different genres. Some that come to mind are Crazy Little thing Called Love, Bring Back that Leroy Brown, March of the Black Queen, Mustafa, Sleeping on the Sidewalk, You Take My Breath Away…the list could go on forever. Many of their pieces are also influenced by other art forms. For example, Nevermore is based on Poe’s, The Raven, and The Fairy Fellers Master Stroke is written based on a paining. What I am trying to get at is that yes, I think you can make connections between any genre of music because they are all built from the same principles. However, I don’t think Bohemian Rhapsody’s operatic qualities are mere coincidence.

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  2. In the operatic piece, the accompaniment adds emotion to what the vocalist is singing. It complements her as well as moves her through the song. It is the exclamation point, or the comma, or even the dot dot dot to the story. Similarly, in Bohemian Rhapsody, the accompaniment is telling the back story to the words. It is like sitting at the beach and the waves keep rolling in. The waves keep things in motion, just like the accompaniment. Watching the waves tells part of the story, but if you look across the horizon, one sees an entire ocean. Meanwhile, the lyrics are just a part of the song, but then, add in the music etc., and poof, you have a whole song or the whole story.

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  3. As a genre, Rock may have been influenced by Opera, but Rock culture has progressed and evolved so much into so many different sub-genres and sub-cultures that its hard to find a connection between the two. It may boil down to the band/singer’s style where their songs may be heavily influenced by Opera. Perhaps both their origins and how they are structured may be similar, but each song, assuming it isn’t a blatant rip-off from other ones as so many are today, is its own essence with its own soul.

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  4. I agree with QueenLover. There are many similarities between Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody and Opera music. What stands out most to me in the two selected musical pieces is that the lyrics and tone of both are tragic. In the Opera piece, there are lyrics such as, “Dreadful fate fearful moment to return from dead such sorrow,” and ” Husband are you leaving me…must I die again without your embrace.” The Queen song includes such depressing and tragic lyrics as,”Momma, just killed a man…life had just begun, now I’ve thrown it all away,” and “Nothing really matters to me…sometimes wish I’d never been born at all.” In addition to the lyrics, Bohemian Rhapsody has a chorus that is similar to an Operatic ensemble that seems to act as the judge and jury. It is interesting to see the influence that early, classical music has had on some more modern rock songs, and I look forward to future discussion topics.

    Liked by 1 person

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