Trans-Siberian Orchestra is one of my favorite bands and my favorite album is Beethoven’s last night. Needless to say, it was a great treat for me to see that album in concert after ten years. The band explained before the show began that the show was experimental and something they are calling Rock Theater. While they admitted to not really knowing what that meant, they certainly put forward a lot of effort into making a production that fit the term.
The show was wonderful. Seeing the singers in character really made the narrative much more coherent. Putting faces to characters and characters to voices was a great leap beyond the album. It was a bit like listening to Tommy and then watching the film. Having the narration between the songs also fleshed out the story wonderfully. There is a big difference between having the liner notes and hearing the narrator. Specifically, the narrative of the songs “Vienna” and “I’ll Keep Your Secrets” made much more sense during the show than on the album. For Vienna it was having a younger Beethoven perform the song that really did it. “I’ll Keep Your Secrets” was a song I had always assumed was sung by Fate. Going through the liner notes again revealed that I just made that mistake a long time ago but it was nice to have that cleared up.
Many of the emotions in the concert were very different from the album. This is neither good nor bad. Beethoven, in particular, had a much different emotional range. The album portrays him as a bitter man filled with rage at the impossible choice he has been given. In concert, he is more contemplative and unsure. Seeing a new interpretation really made me think about the character in a different light. That performance, more than any other, carries the concert and required immense talent and effort.
Jeff Scott Soto’s Mephistopheles was likewise thrilling. He was able to carry smooth, seductive tones and turn them on a dime to be menacing, sinister or just plain brutal. I found him to be a much more convincing Mephistopheles than the album’s portrayal, which does not have the subtlety one would expect from the Prince of Lies. The album’s rendition always has a hint of sinister to it, which is brilliant in its own right and I think necessary for that medium. When given a visual presentation and the accompanying narration, however, the menace can come from the stage presence.
While the show was fantastic, I don’t think it is as good as it could be. The theater elements should be given more prominence. As great as it is to see the different singers performing individual characters, it would be even better if they didn’t each exist in a vacuum. Put them on stage together, let them interact. All of Mephistopheles’ songs are directed at Beethoven; let him berate, seduce and bully the composer. Have Twist mock him to his face. “A Final Dream” would be such a sweet and touching scene if you had both Beethoven and Fate upon the stage. Put Beethoven on the wings of the stage as he watches Therese during “After the Fall.”
My biggest hope is that a DVD is produced of the show so I can buy it and watch it at home (or, more likely, rip the video and put it on my iPhone to listen to at work).