Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Beethoven's Last Night (Atlantic, 2000)

It’s the spring of 1827, and in Vienna, Ludvig von Beethoven has just completed his Tenth Symphony, which is to stand forever as his masterpiece, his last and greatest work. As he revels in the triumph of such an accomplishment, he’s visited by two spirits, named Fate and Twist. This, they say, is his last night of life.

As midnight strikes, Mephistopheles appears, ready to claim Beethoven’s soul as his own. The composer objects, desperate to avoid eternal damnation. And thus begins the final, frantic battle between Beethoven and Mephistopheles to determine the fate of a soul….

That’s the plotline of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s latest release, their first album to depart from the Christmas theme the previous two (Christmas Eve and Other Stories and Christmas Attic) both shared. Now, for those not in the know, the New York based Trans-Siberian Orchestra is an unusual group. They manage to blend hard rock, Broadway, and classical into a symphonic whole, creating spectacular music tapestries. As I explained to one friend, “they Do Things to Beethoven’s music.” To be more specific, they take the old and familiar, be it Christmas carols, or classical music, they then apply a modern rock sensibility and energy, and tie it all together with Broadway style to generate something between rock opera and musical journey.

The primary members of the TSO come from the rock group Savatage. However, for this work, they were joined by members of the New York classical scene, as well as a children’s choir, making this a truly multi-genre experience. The inspiration behind the TSO is Paul O’Neill, a longtime producer and Broadway musician.

Trying to describe the TSO is like trying to explain dancing in an earthquake. They blend genres that should be blended, and as a result, turn out a truly unique sound. Beethoven’s Last Night is a prime example of that. They take such familiar works as Fur Elise and Beethoven’s Fifth, and throw them into a blender with electric instruments, and two decades worth of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s influence, and turn out…. Well, I don’t honestly think there’s any way to adequately describe the result. This is the part where you go to their Web site and listen to some of the excerpts from the album for yourself.

The music is powerful, evocative, and vibrant, reinventing the old and stagnant for a new era. Backed up with a strong story and fascinating lyrics, as well as a talented cast, it becomes more than the sum of its parts. Jody Ashworth turns in a strong performance as the tormented and driven Beethoven, while Patti Russo stars as Theresa, his lost love. Jon Oliva is a properly manipulative and devilish Mephistopheles, and Sylvia Tosun does a great job as Fate.

Beethoven’s Last Night is part Dr. Faustus and part A Christmas Carol, with Beethoven taking the place both of Faust and Scrooge in his own way. It’s not giving away the story to state that Fate indeed takes Beethoven on a tour of his life, and he has to do some heavy thinking about what he’s willing to sacrifice in order to avoid Mephistopheles, and, for that matter, what he’s willing to sacrifice for other people. And since, to my recollection, Beethoven’s Tenth doesn’t exist in this day and age (does it? Correct me if wrong….), something obviously happens to it in this story.

This is a very strong album, especially for a conceptual rock opera. Normally, I wouldn’t review something so rock-influenced for Green Man Review, but frankly, its take on classical music is special enough, and its value as something you just don’t see enough of is great enough, that I convinced my editor to accept it. Yes, Beethoven’s Last Night is that strong. It resonates in just the right manner. So hey, if any of the above happens to catch your fancy, give this one a shot. If we encourage them, they’ll keep experimenting.

The liner booklet for this album is worth the price of admission alone, containing a thorough story summary, as well as lyrics to many of the songs. There’s no doubt that you’ll know what’s going on with this as your guide. And that’s definitely a nice touch.

So yes, I highly recommend the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, and Beethoven’s Last Night. It’s something new and energetic, and is bound to catch on.

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