The Christmas season is a time for reflection, celebration and, in the case of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s yearly visit to Buffalo, an occasion to revel in a crunchy, guitar-powered, head-banging “rock opera” complete with an outrageously complex light show and plot writing that strains credulity.
Opera librettos are rarely coherent works of literature, offering a skeleton to a composer who will then flesh out the production, creating arias and a sonic backdrop for which the text has provided an excuse. That said, Paul O’Neill and his collaborators, Jon Oliva and Al Pitrelli, have taken a commercially successful stab at the genre, and while this effort (“The Lost Christmas Eve”) won’t sit all that comfortably next to the works of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Giuseppe Verdi or Pete Townsend, its goals and source material are a bit different and, as such, need a little slack cut for them.
It helps that each of the Trans-Siberian Christmas-themed programs has a charitable component. As he has done in previous years, guitarist Chris Caffery came onstage before the afternoon concert and hosted a small ceremony wherein a check was handed to Women & Children’s Hospital of Buffalo. The amount donated, with one dollar from each concert ticket, added up to a figure slightly north of $9,000.
A similar check based upon sales for the evening show generated additional cash for a good cause.
The show itself is quite impressive on a number of fronts. From a technical standpoint, one can only wonder at the creativity of the folks involved with planning the staging and lighting. It isn’t just that fire pots shot out flames from a variety of viewpoints, or that fog and faux snowflakes descended from the ceiling on cue, or even that huge banks of light projectors swung their multi-colored beams around the venue in a fluid (if elephantine) display of agility.
Give some props to whoever designed a castle backdrop that morphed, over the course of the concert, into a bar, a hospital, and a canvas for flame and starlight. When the “castle” mimicked any of the requisite architecture (mandated by the libretto), windows with flapping drapery or interior scenes populated the structure. The computer programming for all of this constantly evolving scenery boggles the mind.
From a musical standpoint, it was a display of strutting heavy metal poses with hair and heads tossed back, guitars powered by pelvic thrusts, and singers dramatically emoting. The tunes were catchy, the instrumentalists were energetic, talented and communicated a sense of fun, and the vocalists inhabited the lyrics as best they could, overcoming textual shortfalls by virtue of sheer professionalism.
Hits were played, especially instrumentals such as “Wizards in Winter” (there was a YouTube clip a couple years back in which someone programmed their house light display to follow the tune’s changes) and “Siberian Sleigh Ride.”
The most impressive number from a vocal standpoint was “Christmas Lights in Blue” while “What Is Christmas?” displayed a singer with talent struggling to communicate why one should care about the text.