Bizarre. Any other term would be grossly misleading. A rock opera about a famous composer’s last night on earth could hardly be anything else, however. The story is a somewhat distorted version of Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus, borrowing characters and temptations without apologies. Beethoven apparently spends his last night on earth as the “unwitting battleground between good and evil.” The battle involves Mephistophilis bargaining for Beethoven’s 10th Symphony, using his soul as leverage. Other prominent characters include Fate and her dwarf child Twist.
While an interesting concept, the execution is frequently lacking. The music can be exquisite variations of Beethoven’s music, but is often interrupted by a pounding drum and the occasional power guitar riff. The producer seemed to think that this adds some sort of emphasis to the sung aspects, when in reality, it tends to distract from the purpose of the album, obscuring the (theoretically central) piano movements. O’Neill’s background as a performer/producer is extremely evident—overall, it sounds like Savatage on sedatives. Beethoven has been modernized before, most notably for Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, and was an interesting curiosity. Speeding it up, adding guitars and some synth doesn’t really do much for old Beethoven. I’d go so far as to say such a distortion is most likely the cause of some fairly spectacular grave spinning.
The album might be salvageable if the lyrics were slightly less melodramatic. Dr. Faustus is a dramatic work, but I never find myself groaning at certain places, as I did with this TSO album. I don’t know whether it’s the introduction of Beethoven or the rock opera format that adds the melo-, but whichever, it certainly heaps it on. There are some good bits, but unfortunately not nearly enough to make up for the rest of the album. Technically, the album is excellently executed. The vocals in particular are in places spectacular, and seem out of place beside the guitar stylings.
While conceptually interesting as a blend of several historicly important concepts, I can’t actually recommend this album to anyone not interested in Savatage and/or rock opera. More the former than the latter, unfortunately. You’d be better off buying a copy of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and listening to it while reading Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus.
// Notes from the Road
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