Thursday, January 29, 2015

Revelation, a rock opera by Mike Doughty

And now for something completely different, as they* say.  A friend invited me to Studio 360 for a heartwarming story of a New Year's resolution successfully achieved:
Last January, singer-songwriter Mike Doughty wrote to us with a creative New Year’s resolution: to write a rock opera based on the Book of Revelation.  “It is an absolutely terrifying, monster-movie, psychedelic tale of destruction, and the language is so beautiful, it is so bizarre and wonderful,” Doughty told Kurt Andersen. “I thought, with the right music, and the right actors declaiming the text, and the right visuals, it would be a great show.”  
The staging was static - the three instrumentalists in back, the four vocalists at microphones in front - and a propulsive club beat and a near-chanting style helped provide a unity of sound for over an hour.

It was the psychedelic visuals projected behind the musicians and appearing on smaller screens throughout the room that really made the show.  The simple black-and-white line drawings illustrated various beasts and scenes and highlighted specific words and numbers from the Book of Revelation.  They constantly flashed and fluctuated and pulsed, but unfortunately most of my camera phone pictures came out blank.

Yes, the figure in back is covered with eyes.

I have never seriously tried to sit down and read the entire Book of Revelation all in one go, but it struck me that this rock opera is a fairly good way to get a sense of it.  Even educational, one might say.   Doughty apparently used four or five different translations to prepare his libretto, and really tried to distill the essence of the book.  He explained to us that he warned his collaborators up-front that they might be eternally damned for participating in the project, since John says:
18 I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll. 19 And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll. 
Revelation 22:18-19 New International Version (NIV)

Beast with seven horns and seven eyes

 Doughty suggests that John's seeming obsession with numbers bordered on Asperger's syndrome

Amber Gray brought a wonderful intensity to the role of The Word/The Angel.  Her widened eyes, flawless skin, and prominent cheekbones all contributed to helping her look the part.

On the left: Amber Gray, playing The Word/The Angel.
The other female vocalists, Melissa McMillan and Xenia Rubinos, had beautifully harmonizing voices.

Mike Doughty, playing John the Revelator

Doughty explained afterward that he has long been intrigued by the Book of Revelation, which seems to have inspired many of the heavy metal bands he loved in his teenage years.  His own conclusion, as shared during the Q&A session, is that Christianity is all about vengeance.

Of course, individual conclusions may vary.

FN* They being Monty Python, in this particular instance.

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