Music News & Reviews

Operatic version of Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’ premieres in Cincinnati

A tyrannical teacher (Dominic Lorange) punishes his riotous students in “Another Brick in the Wall.” CincinnatiOpera presents the U.S. premiere, July 20-31 at Cincinnati Music Hall.
A tyrannical teacher (Dominic Lorange) punishes his riotous students in “Another Brick in the Wall.” CincinnatiOpera presents the U.S. premiere, July 20-31 at Cincinnati Music Hall. Opéra de Montréal

When Pierre Dufour approached Roger Waters, English songwriter and co-founder of Pink Floyd, with the idea of reworking the landmark Pink Floyd album as an opera, the reception was, shall we say, icy.

“I wrote him a rather pompous letter,” Waters told Rolling Stone magazine, “saying, ‘In my experience, attempts to transmogrify rock ‘n’ roll material to anything symphonic or operatic are unmitigated disasters always. I think it’s a terrible idea.”

That, in short, was what Dufour, had to start with.

Undaunted, he oversaw a project where ‘The Wall’ was recast not an operatic arrangement of a rock composition by as a fully realized opera that became “Another Brick in the Wall.” Having had a premiere last year at the Opera de Montreal, where Dufour had served as general director, the piece will have its United States unveiling this weekend with Cincinnati Opera.

So how did Dufour, who now works with Productions Opera Concepts MP (which is co- producing the work with Cincinnati Opera), brighten the perspective of the disapproving Waters? It began with offering recordings of three “Wall” tunes — the show-opening “In the Flesh,” “The Happiest Days of Our Lives” and the popular “Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2)” — that gave an idea of the complete re-imagining Dufour’s team, which included operatic composer Julien Bilodeau, envisioned for the piece.

But Dufour knew they couldn’t simply send the recordings to Waters. His team had to meet him face to face — “in the flesh,” if you will — to sell the idea.

Pierre Dufour Cincinnati Opera

“The main goal was the chance to meet him in person so that we could present the project,” Dufour said. “If he had said again, ‘I really think it’s a bad idea,’ then probably the project would not have gone forward. But he appreciated the fact that we presented and explained how we thought this was a great story and a great libretto. Mr. Waters is a great fan of opera, as well, but he never thought this work could be adapted to an opera. So he was very, very generous with us.

“After the first hearing of ‘In the Flesh,’ he had some questions. ‘Do you have the score with you?’ So we gave him the score. Then there was a pause after he heard all three tracks. Of course, we were all around him waiting for his verdict and comments. And he said, ‘It’s good. It’s really good.’”

Dufour had been fascinated with Waters’ initial recording of “The Wall,” released as a multi-platinum selling Pink Floyd album, since its release in 1979. While much of his interest was musical, he also found a very personal connection with the work. Waters’ father died during World War II (specifically, in the Battle of Anzio in Italy) when the musician was 5 months old. Dufour was 8 when he lost his father.

“The libretto speaks a lot about searching, the quest, for the missing father. For me, by far, that was the first connection. When I first heard ‘The Wall,’ I was 16 years old. I knew nothing about opera. But I was listening. The connectivity was there.

“When you lose a father or a mother, you remain something of an orphan all your life. You can’t change that fate. For me, this was really the first connection. Musically, it’s a very strong album. I’m a huge fan of Pink Floyd, from the early music onward. So it’s really the connectivity to the strength of the piece. Listening to it always made me feel more secure.”

Pink (Étienne Dupuis) confronts a fan in “Another Brick in the Wall.” Cincinnati Opera presents the U.S. premiere, July 20-31 at Cincinnati Music Hall. Yves Renaud Opéra de Montréal

Does that connectivity extend to an audience expecting more along the lines of “La Traviata” (which, coincidentally, Cincinnati Opera is also presenting this weekend) than a rock-inspired piece about isolation and enough references to drugs, sex and violence to earn advisements in the promotion for “Another Brick in the Wall?”

“By far the most frequent comment we had was how people were rediscovering the piece itself. A good example is ‘The Trial’ (one of the thematically climatic songs from “The Wall”). Basically, ‘The Trial’ is really an adaptation of the original piece, which was already very operatic. It’s not been rewritten, but hearing it translated to opera with 70 musicians, you hear the music on a whole different scale and dimension. It’s very large. Yet at the end of the piece, its sound is a cappella. You have nothing. You have no instruments — only people who address themselves to the audience. It’s very moving.” “This production has with it some surprises.”

If you go

‘Another Brick in the Wall’

When: 7:30 p.m. July 20, 21, 26, 28 and 31

Where: Music Hall, 1241 Elm St., Cincinnati

Tickets: $35-$195 Call: 513-241-2742