Beethoven's Last Night

Trans-Siberian Orchestra

Atlantic Records, 2000

REVIEW BY: Duke Egbert

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 07/17/2000

The first non-Christmas album from Trans-Siberian Orchestra (TSO) is even more ambitious than anything that has come before. (Let's hear it for ambition.)

TSO, the rock opera project headed by songwriter and producer Paul O'Neill and including several members of progressive metal group Savatage, has finally released their first "secular" album. Beethoven's Last Night is a full rock opera with multiple voices, a libretto, and a full orchestral score. Loosely explained, it is the story of the composer's last night on earth and his confrontation with both Mephistopheles and his own failures and triumphs. This theme is…well… big. Really big. Andrew-Lloyd-Webber-would-choke-on-this-puppy big.

And let's face it, for every good rock opera there are four or five overblown guitar-leaden (no, that's not a misspelling) wastes of time. When rock opera is good, it's my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 really good, but it's so, so rare that it is.

Invariably, works such as this become a struggle between the creator and the sheer weight and effort it takes to achieve something this grandiose. So the question is, to paraphrase "Iron Chef," "Who wins it? Whose musical impact reigns supreme?" Paul O'Neill, or the sheer inertia of a project like this?

And now, the verdict: O'Neill. Beethoven's Last Night is a magnificent piece of work. It has a few flaws, but on the whole it's more than worth the time, effort, and sheer sweat. O'Neill had the sheer testicular fortitude to take on Beethoven and the talent to make it work.

He gets varying levels of help from his performers. Jody Ashworth singing Beethoven, is…okay. No more. He's not bad, but he's not great, either, except on his final solo, "Mephistopheles' Return", where he seems to finally let go. As a contrast, Beethoven's Last Night features the magnificent power of Patti Russo as Theresa, Beethoven's former love, and the sheer sneering malice of Jon Oliva as Mephistopheles. The background vocalists and supporting vocalists (including Sylvia Tosun as Fate and varying Muses and Ghosts) are excellent as well.

The production and engineering by O'Neill, Robert Kinkel, and Dave Wittman are more than listenable, even handling full orchestra and chorus. The songwriting is sheer genius - O'Neill has a way with words that leaves you breathless and bruised from the impact, and neatly switches back and forth between rock and Broadway lyricism.

From the opening bars of "Overture", Beethoven's Last Night keeps you held fast. Certain tracks need to be highlighted for special notice, including "Mephistopheles"; Patti Russo's double dose of passion and power on "I'll Keep Your Secrets" and "After The Fall"; the metal-laced "The Dark"; "Mephistopheles' Return"; the infernal cruelty of "Misery"; and the ultimate fall and rise of "A Final Dream".

Beethoven's Last Night is a magnificent defiance to the conventional wisdom that says that rock opera is dead and a waste of time. Kudos to O'Neill and his Orchestra. Let's hope there's more gold to be mined in Siberia.

Rating: A

User Rating: A


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© 2000 Duke Egbert and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Atlantic Records, and is used for informational purposes only.