So last night I went to a heavy metal opera.
WAIT! I hear you say, since when has that ever been your scene?
I know, I don’t have any piercings or tattoos. I don’t even listen to heavy metal music or like it for that matter. In fact I showed up wearing a white MST3K T-shirt featuring Gypsy while everyone around me was wearing black, often with some form of skeleton or apocalyptic scene on the T-shirt. Let me tell you, I got a lot of strange looks from my fellow audience members, as if they were expecting me to suddenly realize I was in the wrong place. But you know what?
I loved Aeterno Elementum!
When they said it was opera they meant it. Aeterno Elementum is a classic tragedy that wouldn’t have been out of place on a stage in ancient Rome or Athens, right down to the insane Gods who screw everything up for the protagonist. It explores classic themes such as love, death, betrayal and redemption and borrows from the mythology of dozens of cultures (the final act very reminiscent of the Norse Ragnarok) in order to weave a tale that is as captivating as it is dark. And somehow the people of Ara’kus, the group that put this show together, managed to meld all of this with Heavy Metal in a seamless and breathtaking display that left me wanting more long after it was over.
What impressed most, however, was that the people of Ara’kus engaged me in their story before I’d even bought a ticket!
Walking into the Everett Historical Theater I was immediately greeted by two men dressed in all black robes, figuring they were just in costume I broke into my usual charming small talk:
“Hey, how’s it going?” I asked.
“Well, Sir.” Came the response from beneath the black hooded figure, completely devoid of emotion.
“So, uh, here’s my money.” I offered, hoping to evoke some kind of emotion.
The man didn’t respond, he simply waved his hand over a box covered in black velvet which read: Please pay what you can. For a broke writer who still lives with his parents, that sign alone won them huge brownie points.
Now, that might seem like a rude greeting from my description, but it really helped set the mood. I would have been perfectly content with some guy in a cheap suit punching tickets at the front desk, but these guys went the extra mile and started performing before I even paid. That doesn’t just tell me that these people are dedicated, which they certainly are, but also that they love what they’re doing. This isn’t some half-assed production birthed by a drunken night watching The Producers and hoping to write off the loss on their taxes. This is a labor of love and as a fellow creative artist, who has poured sweat, blood and tears onto this keyboard writing stories, I can appreciate that. The performances of all involved, even if they sometimes lacked the polish of a professional actor, were engaging and I could easily tell they were all dedicated to making this performance as mind-blowing as possible.
And though all these performers were good, two stood out as outstanding: BJ Becker and Richard Chartrand.
BJ Becker’s performance was remarkable, I didn’t go into this play expecting to see such talent. BJ Becker could easily hold his own acting across from Anthony Hopkins, Ian McKellen, or any other classically trained actor. As the Priest, who acts as both narrator and protagonist, he gave a commanding performance that completely dominated the production. His every movement told the story, his every word illuminating the actions of his character and the tragic circumstances that led to his tortured existence. He brought me into a world blanketed in darkness, and didn’t let me leave that world until it had been shattered and purged by the final act. My hat is off to you Mr. Becker.
Richard Chartrand played the Imp, a sort of comic relief character who, in writer’s parlance, is know as the “Trickster”. Basically the character that brings the audience down to earth after dramatic or action filled scenes, which sounds a lot easier than it really is. The Trickster is an important part of any story, written or otherwise, and Richard Chartrand did an amazing job. It’s rare to see someone throw themselves into a role with such relish and joy, and with so much energy as well. He wasn’t contained to the stage either, he flitted around the theater like…well an imp, snuggling up to members of the audience, and flinging the decorative skulls at the light operators he certainly fulfilled his role well. Unfortunately they haven’t posted pictures of their performance last night, so I can’t give you a picture of him in full make-up, but as soon as they do I will update this post because it was a pretty amazing make-up job.
Of course it wouldn’t be an Opera without music.
And what music it is! It runs the gambit from soaring, pounding blastbeats and even viking roars, to somber melancholy movements that drag us down into the sorrow of death and loss. The music complements the story so well that it’s almost impossible to separate the two. Oh, don’t get me wrong, the album is awesome (which by the way: you can buy here at your own price!) but I don’t think I’ll be able to listen to it again without picturing the final climactic battle or seeing the Demoness creeping from the shadows and drawing the four generals to their doom. The guitarists were front and center, and of course drew most of my attention because they were terrific, but they would have been nothing without the amazing work of the choir who gave performances for both chanting monks and insane demonic cultists. And when the soldiers came trudging down the isles roaring in tune with the pounding music I almost followed them up on stage to take part in the final battle.
Unfortunately I do have one complaint regarding the music, I couldn’t hear the lyrics of the songs. I thought maybe it was me, since I’m new to heavy metal, but the two friends that came with me couldn’t hear them either. Which is a shame because the lyrics are awesome!
“The thunder of a thousand hoof beats
Marks the coming of the storm”
That’s the kind of line that my make my literary mouth water, and now listening to it on the album it’s a shame I couldn’t hear this line while it was being played live because it would have been amazing to hear that in time to the knights fighting it out. Hopefully next time they amplify the microphones so that we can hear the vocals above the instrumentation.
My only other complaint is that the opera was a bit too short, and that’s not just because I enjoyed it so much, but because the story kind of suffers as a result of its brevity. This is an epic tale of the fall of the world crammed into about an hour and a half, if that, and while brevity is the soul of wit, too much brevity just leaves you with the soul of w t (no that’s not a typo) and that’s no good. What I’m saying is that the middle of the story suffers from the condensed storyline, I felt like the story suddenly skipped from the beginning right to the end. After introducing the four generals I thought the play should have elaborated a bit more on the build up to the final massive battle, perhaps with an introduction of the generals of the opposing side and their struggles as they fight for the very survival of the world.
I also understand, however, that this decision was probably a result of a limited budget and not any lack of effort on their part. Which is why I hope some rich investor discovers these guys and gives them a big bag full of cash to flesh out the story a bit more (and I’m available to help you write it!) as well as get the huge sets, pyrotechnics, and stage space a production this amazing deserves. I mean they wasted nearly 80 million dollars on Spider Man the Musical, you’d think they’d have a couple hundred thousand laying around for some people who could’ve blow that putrescent diseased play out of the water.
Anyway, I’ll be offering my services to Ara’Kus as writer, knight, big guy to help build sets, or even the guy who gets the coffee just so I can be a part of the amazing job these guys are doing on Aeterno Elementum. Hopefully this love letter thinly disguised as a review will get me a job with them!
There will be another showing of this amazing production tonight at 8:30pm at the Everett Historic Theatre.
Be there, or risk the wrath of the Gods!