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Photo gallery: Trans-Siberian Orchestra's Christmas rock opera
It's strange that with all the bombastic guitars and violins, flashing lights, lasers, tongues of fire and special effects seen Wednesday afternoon at the Trans-Siberian Orchestra's performance of "The Lost Christmas Eve" at EnergySolutions Arena, what left the strongest impression were the quieter moments.
A dazzling rendition of "What Child Is This?" and the ballad "Back to the Reason II" offered moving emotional high points.
"The Lost Christmas Eve," narrated by Phillip Brandon, is about a man who had everything in the world, only to lose his wife while she gave birth to a boy who would be lucky to live, much less function normally. So the man, questioning God, puts the infant in an institution and lived his days alone.
The story ends with a Christmas Eve miracle. After 20 years, father is reunited with son, who cannot talk, but spends his days rocking and consoling babies born to mothers addicted to crack.
It was a moving tale performed with gusto by a troupe of talented musicians.
That said, TSO is difficult to define. Looking at the diverse audience of about 4,500 at the afternoon show, one of two Salt Lake City performances, one can only marvel at TSO's popularity.
Folks who probably wouldn't be caught dead at an '80s metal show seemed to enjoy what is essentially a rock opera of a Christmas story told through loud, over-the-top rock and a $20 million stage setup filled with all sorts of technological wonders.
Several things can be said about this show, which likely won't be seen again for many years and is part of TSO's Christmas trilogy of rock operas.
First, the band and singers are extremely talented with great voices and amazing musical abilities. Even those who don't appreciate this type of music leave impressed.
Second, TSO gives fans their money's worth. This show clocked in at around two hours and 40 minutes, with "The Lost Christmas Eve" lasting about 90 minutes and the rest filled in with songs from the orchestra's repertoire, including a fun medley of songs from The Nutracker and a heavy metal rendition of some of Beethoven's greatest hits.
It is filled with special effects of all sorts. A monolithic building guards the stage and, through the use of an impressive projection system, turns into a hospital, a rundown hotel, a blues club and a church, sometimes with effects that are almost three dimensional.
The stage featured many levels, including two small spaces at the top of the building, two side stages, an auxiliary stage with risers and a number of tricky surprises. These included crane-like contraptions that carried musicians out over the audience and risers that lifted performers high into the sky.
Then there was the lighting. It filled the arena with flashing lasers, almost two bright splashing strobes and four moving light bars that gyrated up and down throughout the performance as well as two other stationary light bars lifted high over the audience.
Add to that tongues of fire, a pyrotechnic show rivaling many July 4th finales on the final number, falling snow that actually felt real and cold and the projection of images on smoke and this was a technologically dazzling show.
That said, it wasn't flawless. Even though the upper bowl of EnergySolutions Arena was curtained off to create a more intimate experience and perhaps improve the sound a bit, it was difficult to hear the words of the fine vocalists at times over the electric guitars, violin, keyboards and drums. Having a narrator helped explain the story, but to those who came unprepared or had not purchased an album, the story was hard to follow because the lyrics were often difficult to understand.
Fortunately, the sound crew seemed to iron things out a bit as the show progressed and the beautiful solos that offered the afternoon's emotional highlights were crystal clear and moving.
TSO founder Paul O'Neill is fond of saying these shows are a combination of The Who's famous rock opera "Tommy," an Andrew Lloyd Webber Broadway musical and a Pink Floyd light show. That's a pretty accurate description.
This certainly wasn't traditional Christmas music. But "The Lost Christmas Eve" told a meaningful story, even if the staging and nontraditional renditions were a bit over the top at times.