The Influence of Theatre on Blues and Popular Music

While it’s difficult to nail down the exact origins of the theatre, the are numerous examples of drama being used as an entertainment form when delving into the rich history of the Ancient Greeks. Dating back to the 6th century, a priest by the name of Thespis engaged in dialogue while a musical chorus was playing and thus became arguably the first actor in recorded history. In fact, ever since this development, actors in the West have been more than happy to identify as Thespians.

Theatre and music have always enjoyed a mutually beneficial relationship. After all, music is as much of a way of expressing oneself as acting and those who attend the theatre often do so for the stellar vocal performances as well as the impressive acting chops which are on display. With that being said, there are numerous examples of music and the theatre complementing each other over the years with musical theatre as well as opera, the theatre continues to have a growing influence on popular music – and take quite a few things back from it, too.

The Theatre and the Blues

While there are reports which indicate that blues music was prevalent in the deep south at the dawn of the 20th century, it was the 1920s which saw the blues become a major staple of American popular music. The smaller and more informal performances were moved into the theatre and represented a much bigger stage for performers to showcase their talent. In the modern day, there are various musicals which are centered around the blues and are arguably a result of the close relationship that the two have enjoyed over the last century or so.

The rhythm and blues opera I Dream is a musical interpretation of the life of Martin Luther King and the events surrounding and leading up to the civil rights moment. The success of such productions are based on the fact that the opera and blues music are genres which both lend themselves to powerful storytelling through the medium of song and the popularity of I Dream has consequently lead to a full 27 track full studio recording entitled I Dream (The Concept Recording) which is now available on both Google Play Music and iTunes.

Rock Music and Opera

Of course, when discussing the term opera in the more traditional sense, Mozart, Beethoven and Handl all immediately spring to mind as absolute masters of their craft. While there are various modern examples of rock music and opera overlapping, the rather unimaginatively named rock operas are without a doubt the most absorbing, with The Who’s groundbreaking 1969 double album Tommy perhaps being the most well known example. Tommy tells the story of a deaf, blind and mute abuse victim who grows up to be a spiritual leader and has is universally recognized as the first concept album of its kind. The album went on to sell over 20 million records worldwide and a successful Broadway stage version opened in 1993 and ran for just over two years.

In theatrical terms, it would be remiss to mention the opera without mentioning one of the most successful musicals to ever grace the theatre, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera. Originally opening in 1986, it is the third longest running West End show of all time and has since been turned into a successful movie by Warner Bros Pictures as well as featuring prominently in other areas of popular culture such as the video game industry, with an online Phantom of the Opera slot game available on Hippodrome casino featuring HD graphics and sounds which encapsulate the dark and sinister narrative of the original production. Oh, and if it’s dark and sinister that you’re looking for then you should probably check out Finnish symphonic metal band Nightwish, who have also covered the titular track of the musical in their own inimitable way in their 2002 album Century Child.

The World of Popular Music Also has a Passion for Opera

It’s fair to say that in the modern day musical world, the term pop is thrown around with reckless abandon and has become synonymous with cheesy (but admittedly catchy) chart music. However, back in the days when popular music was popular for a reason, there are plenty of examples of artists covering songs from some of the most well known and popular musicals the world has ever seen.

Jeff Buckley’s contribution to opera-infused pop features in a live performance of Dido’s Lament at the 1995 Meltdown festival. Taken from the baroque opera Dido and Aeneas (created by Henry Purcell), Buckley’s version is both tortured and beautiful, which is also a fitting way to summarize his tragically short music career. The Doors and David Bowie have both covered “Alabama Song” from Kurt Weil and Bertolt Brecht’s cabaret influenced opera The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny and for a more recent sampling of a classic, look no further than than RnB artist Kelis track “Like You”, which quite masterfully loops a sample of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte.

The Theatre Will Continue To Influence and Inspire

The true purpose behind art is inspiring others to let their creative juices loose and the evolution of both opera and the theatre have helped the music industry grow into the institution we see before us today. The unrivaled amalgamation of music and performance within the theatre continues to move onlookers even to this day and many still walk out feeling inspired and touched by what they’ve seen. For as long as it’s around, there’s no doubt that music will always be a massive part of the theatre and vice versa.

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