Thursday 16 January 2020

Adrian Tăbăcaru - Lucifer: A Rock Opera (2020)

Country: Romania
Style: Progressive Rock
Rating: 6/10
Release Date: 15 Jan 2020
Sites (Adrian Tăbăcaru): Bandcamp | Facebook | Official Website | Twitter | YouTube
(Lucifer: A Rock Opera): Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram | Official Website | YouTube

Here's something a little different. Adrian Tăbăcaru is a Romanian drummer who's composed and performed in a variety of genres, from jazz to electronic and including stints as an orchestral percussionist. However, this album is Tăbăcaru with his prog rock hat on, because it's a rock opera performed by a set of musicians and actors from Romania and the UK. He composed this piece of music but the story isn't his.

It originated as a poem by Mihai Eminescu, who has been called as important to Romanian literature as Shakespeare was to English. This project prompted me to read up on him and he's a fascinating author. I'd love to track down an English translation of Luceafărul, the long poem first published in 1883 that is the source for this rock opera, and especially a novel or novella by the name of Poor Dionis, which for 1872 looks seriously wild. So the poem is by Eminescu and the libretto is by Ioana Ieronim. Also somewhere in play is Anșoara Moraru, credited as "literary consultant". How often does prog rock need a literary consultant? Yeah, I was intrigued.

Luceafărul isn't the traditional western story of Lucifer, the fallen angel. It does deal with a similar celestial being called Lucifer or Hyperion, who is doing his job as the morning star when he's called by a lustful princess called Cătălina whom he naturally falls in love with. She wants him to glide down and be with her, in all the meanings of that term, and he's all for it, even agreeing to give up his immortality for her. However, he can't do that without permission from the Demiurge, who he promptly visits at the edge of the universe. Sadly, by the time the Demiurge dissuades him, the sly mortal Cătălin has stolen his Cătălina away.

Yeah, that makes Lucifer surprisingly sympathetic, which is odd, but it also makes for an emotional ride which is perfect for a rock opera like this. It plays a lot closer to classical than say, the Who's Tommy, but a lot closer to rock than anything by Verdi. Tăbăcaru's drums are rarely entirely absent, though they're as versatile as they need to be here. Check out the power of Exordium, the overture that kicks us off, or the wild keyboard runs found in Intermezzo, rock instrumentals that bookend some operatic sections.

We're introduced to the key characters in Lucifer and hear them set up the story in Longing for the Star. Lucifer is a strutty character who hints at being playful and Cătălina is as playful as it gets, the harlot. After this introduction, though, the styles shift. Beyond Infinity has a narrator move us forward and The Long Way Home demonstrates how dark this can get. It's a quiet piece but a dark one, with ritual elements to the lead vocals and the chanting ones behind her. There's lots for Tăbăcaru's drums to do here and there's an oddly slow organ too, creating a neatly unsettling tone.

Thus far, the project has been a little schizophrenic, with a pair of rock instrumentals and a pair of story songs performed by actors in an operatic style. While there are vocals on The Long Way Home, I couldn't catch their words, so this is a mood piece that sets us up for a short but raucous rock song that borders on metal. It's Asking the Void and there are extreme lead vocals here as the keyboards get dissonant and experimental, vocals akin to black metal shrieks but lower and mostly intelligible.

As if in reaction, Antithesis returns to the darkness of The Long Way Home but with more evil vocals, albeit whispery ones full of intent like they're delivered by a devil pretending to be an angel and not doing a great job of it. The music backing her is experimental, xylophones and dissonant strings. If that's the least engaging song because of its odd nature, then the most engaging is the next one up, A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning, in its way just as experimental, with dancing piano and urgent drums. The urgency only builds as this rock song suddenly becomes a metal song halfway through, fast metal at that with a whole new urgency.

There's a lot less Hyperion and Cătălina as I'd have expected from what the poem promises, but album does take us on an appropriately emotional journey with genres involved that I didn't expect. It's a highly varied piece, which is at once its best aspect and its biggest problem. I do appreciate a world in which Longing for the Star and A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning can appropriately exist on the same album, but I do wonder how much of an audience is going to appreciate that. It would seem that people who like one aren't too likely to like the other. I hope that's not the case.

What else I liked here is that a prog rock opera, with enticing snippets of brass and experimental xylophones, not to mention a cast of eight vocalists and the pivotal role being played by a drummer, can teach me about Romanian poetry. That's a world I very much want to live in. Thank you!

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