Frankenstein: The Metal Opera: Q&A with Composer and Writer Richard Campbell
So, my Hothouse Flowers, what happens when Gothic horror, grand opera and heavy metal collide? Frankenstein: The Metal Opera that’s what, and what’s more it’s coming to a theatre in London’s East End on Halloween, too.
News of all this excess was too good to ignore so The Horror Hothouse‘s Simon Ball tracked down composer and writer Richard Campbell at his secret laboratory deep within the fog streaked gaslit alleys of Shoreditch (in reality Orpheus Studios on Kingsland Road aka Pho Mile thanks to the number of excellent Vietnamese restaurants nearby).
Horror and metal are such natural bedfellows, but what was it that so intrigued Richard about Frankenstein?
“The project began when I was looking for a story to use for my second album,” Richard explained. “My previous album had been a rock opera, based on the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, and I wanted to stay in concept album territory as I really enjoy writing that way. My fiancée, Carol suggested Frankenstein, having always been a huge fan of the book. As soon as she mentioned it I knew it was a great idea, how could Frankenstein not be perfect for a metal album?! However, it was only when I actually sat down and read the novel for the first time that I truly realised just how perfect it was. We immediately got cracking on working out how to fit it into the length of an album, and made the decision to write the lyrics ourselves.
‘One of our main goals was to remain as true to Mary Shelley’s original text as possible. The novel is so powerful, so romantic, and so sad and we feel that most people don’t really know that. Frankenstein has been adapted so many times, it has sort of morphed into something with very little resemblance to what’s in the book. It feels like an old cliché to say it, but some people really still don’t know that Frankenstein is the name of the creator, not the creature, they’re just loosely aware of some green guy with a bolt through his neck. Essentially, we wanted to capture what Mary Shelley created, not what Hollywood did with it!’
‘Musically my biggest influences, as far as this album goes, are progressive metal bands like Dream Theater and Symphony X. I love the power and aggression of metal (Pantera being my clear favourite!) but taking that tight and ballsy sound and using it as the basis for slightly more harmonically and melodically driven writing – that’s what I love hearing, and that’s what I try my best to compose!”
The original concept album was released in 2012, how did the decision to move to a stage production come about?
“Well, just a month after releasing the concept album, a small theatre company in Washington D.C. (Landless Theatre Company) contacted me out of the blue. They love rock musicals, and had been looking for ideas for their next show, when they found my stuff on Spotify. They obviously liked what they heard because they asked if I’d be willing to grant them permission to put it on stage that Summer. Needless to say we said yes, and flew over to watch the show in June. It was really exciting, and completely surreal for us, sitting there in the audience watching something we’d written be brought to life on stage, and the moment the last chord struck, we knew we wanted to do it ourselves in London!
‘On the flight home we started work on our ideas for our own staging, and that’s where Carol really came into her own, drawing on her years of experience as a deputy stage manager in theatre. She’s worked with some incredibly inventive and creative companies like Told By An Idiot and Improbable, as well as the RSC, Regent’s Park and National Theatre Wales. That Hallowe’en we teamed up with our director, Alan Mandel, and put on a showcase performance in a pub in Ealing, to put some of our ideas in front of an audience. It was a shortened version as the whole thing was put together in three weeks, but it was a huge success. People said it was really exciting and new, that it made them want to read the book, and that they loved hearing a rock opera that truly rocked!
‘So now, a year later, we’re in a theatre with the full version, with all of our ideas and tweaks in place, an amazing set, an amazing cast, and we can’t WAIT!”
Frankenstein: The Metal Opera will be on at The Space in East London from Tuesday 28 October to Saturday 1 November at 8pm each evening plus a 4pm matinee on Saturday.
Tickets are available from the box office on the Space website, or by telephone on 020 7515 7799.
The original concept album is available on iTunes and Amazon, as well as on CD from Richard’s website.
Like a bit of music with your shocks? Have a listen to these:
The Fall of the House of Usher: An opera by Peter Hammill (1991)
Quite hard to track down, but worth it for the Van der Graaf Generator vocalist’s take on the Edgar Allan Poe classic. Also features vocal contributions from Lene Lovich, Sarah-Jane Morris and Erasure’s Andy Bell. There is a further version with cranked up guitars, that is even harder to find.
Charlemagne: by the Sword and The Cross: Christopher Lee (2010)
Does it get any more crazy? a heavy metal concept album based upon the life of Charlemagne with vocals by real life descendent Sir Christopher Lee aged 88 at the time of recording. Yes it did, Lee followed up with Charlemagne; The Omens of Death in 2013 which was even more full on metal.
Review by Simon Ball
Connect with Simon: @RealShipsCook or here.