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"You're suddenly rather grateful of the explicatory notes — making sense has never been foremost on Townshend's list of rock-opera priorities."
Alexis Petridis on Endless Wire

The Rock Opera is a specific type of rock Concept Album which tells a story.

The "opera"-ness of the form varies significantly. Some are sung entirely from the point of view of a single (possibly unnamed) character, while others have explicitly-named characters interacting with each other in song (and likely performed by different singers). The Other Wiki's entry for Tommy suggests that "rock cantata" or "rock song cycle" might be a more accurate term, since a rock opera is purely a musical performance that is not intended to be staged or acted out. This is odd, since Tommy was the first widely heard Rock Opera, and was farther on the opera side of this scale.

Especially popular rock operas tend to get adapted as The Musical, although as there may be staging difficulties or only one or two characters with singing parts, changes are often made. A few skip the whole "concept album" phase and are written explicitly for the stage.

This sometimes marks the Jumping the Shark point of the band or the band's dissolution, especially if only one musician wants to do a rock opera and the others don't. (See: Styx.)

A recent subgenre of the Rock Opera is the Urban Opera or "hip-hopera," concept albums and musicals telling stories using hip-hop instead of rock music. A well-known example of hip-hopera would be R. Kelly's epic, ongoing "Trapped in the Closet," with 22 chapters and counting. However, rappers are more likely to have a story-telling song or two on each album than dedicate one entirely.

Not to be confused with the Black Mages' version of the opera from Final Fantasy VI in their third album, Darkness and Starlight, wherein they set the operatic (Japanese) lyrics from the original game to a blistering heavy metal interpretation of the original music — though this only constitutes a single 15-minute track from the album.

See Rock Opera Plot for a plot trope specific and common to these. See Rock Operas for an index of rock operas that have pages on TV Tropes.

Examples of Rock Opera include:

  • !Hero is a Christian rock opera that asks "What if Jesus was born in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania?". It notably featured a number of major players in the Christian Rock world, such as former dcTalk member and current Newsboys frontrunner Michael Tait as the title character, along with John Cooper of Skillet, Audio Adrenaline's Mark Stuart, and Rebecca St. James.
  • 2112 is the most well-known of Rush's operatic suites, but the group has produced a number of others, including By-Tor and the Snow Dog, Xanadu, The Fountain of Lamneth, Cygnus X-1, Hemispheres and The Necromancer (which contains several LOTR references).
    • They also did a trilogy of pieces collectively called "fear" (yes, lower-case "f" and all). Strangely, the three parts were not only on three different albums, but appeared in reverse order of their numbering.
      • Then they put a semi-official "Part 4" on Vapor Trails years after the other three parts were released.
    • Cygnus X-1 and Hemispheres could be considered companion pieces, as the hero from the former shows up in the middle of the latter after his ship is destroyed by the titular black hole.
  • Ambo by Robyn Miller and Keith Moore. Seen here.
  • American Idiot and Twenty First Century Breakdown by Green Day.
  • Arjen Anthony Lucassen's band Ayreon is built on this trope. ALL his works tie together, somehow- at least, right up through the current album, 01011001, wherein it may or may not be All Just a Dream. Of course, Arjen loves to fuck with our perceptions of reality like this- his first album as Ayreon, The Final Experiment, tells a (presumably fictitious god we hope) story about visions of man's doom in 2084 being sent back to a blind minstrel in Arthurian England. That whole album is a musically-rendered tale of Cassandra Truth. His successive works are... just as strange, in particular Into the Electric Castle. Amazing storytelling, trippy story. If you can actually FIND his work anywhere, give it a listen (but make sure you've got a couple hours free, he likes double albums).
  • Ashtray Rock by the Joel Plaskett Emergency has an atypically simple plot for a rock opera: two guys fight over a girl and break up their band.
  • The album Elodia by goth band Lacrimosa. It's a story of a couple getting estranged then back together.
  • Days Of Rising Doom by the supergroup Aina, bonus points as it was their only album.
  • Pretty much every album by Coheed and Cambria tells the story of The Armory Wars (the band name itself is part of the plot).
  • Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire) by The Kinks
  • Savatage released three rock operas: Streets: A Rock Opera, Dead Winter Dead, and The Wake of Magellan. A song off Dead Winter Dead, "Christmas Eve / Sarajevo 12/24", became a surprise hit and inspired them to experiment further with the style, leading to...
  • Trans-Siberian Orchestra. TSO exists to write rock operas, most of which are Christmas themed. Their rock operas are Christmas Eve and Other Stories (1996), The Christmas Attic (1998), Beethoven's Last Night (2000), and The Lost Christmas Eve (2004). The aforementioned "Christmas Eve / Sarajevo 12/24" is now universally known as a TSO song.
  • Baltimore Rock Opera Society: A Maryland theater troupe of young artists and musicians who put together wholly original rock operas designed to be the craziest type of theater experience ever conceived.
  • The Black Parade by My Chemical Romance
  • The Broken Bride by Ludo (known usually for songs such as "Love Me Dead" and "Good Will Hunting By Myself") is the heartrending, mindboggling journey of a grieving scientist who travels through time to try and save his dead wife, fighting pterodactyls and zombies along the way.
  • So Far From Home, The Light Of Things Hoped For, and Anti-Meridian by Brave Saint Saturn all tell the story of a NASA mission to Saturn that goes the way of Apollo 13.
  • The Chronicle of the Black Sword by Hawkwind, based on Elric of Melnibone and composed with Michael Moorcock's cooperation
  • The Crimson Idol and The Neon God by WASP
  • The Downward Spiral and Year Zero, by Nine Inch Nails
  • Dead Beat, by Rufus Rex.
  • Every single GWAR album. Significant in that several albums have corresponding movies:
    • America Must Be Destroyed has the movie Phallus in Wonderland
    • This Toilet Earth has Skulhedface
    • Rag Na Rok has Rendezvous with RagNaRok
    • Carnival of Chaos has Dawn of the Day of the Night of the Penguins
  • Hair by Ragni, Rado and McDermott was released as a Rock Opera after success as a Musical.
  • Hedwig and The Angry Inch
  • Imaginos, by Blue Oyster Cult.
    • Almost all of the songs written for the group by its manager/lyricist Sandy Pearlman were part of an operatic Myth Arc, of which Imaginos is merely a fragment.
  • The Iron Man, by Pete Townshend, based on the children's book known in the US as The Iron Giant
  • Iron Savior began as a one-off concept album featuring three German metal musicians, then eventually became a band in its own right, with each album continuing a storyline revolving around a giant self-aware biomechanical spacecraft that was created to defend ancient Atlantis. Making them perhaps literally a Space Opera.
  • Jesus Christ Superstar by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice
    • Along with its namesake, Antichrist Superstar by Marilyn Manson. It's part of a triptych of rock operas, along with Mechanical Animals and Holy Wood (In The Valley Of The Shadow of Death). Apparently the chronological order of the story is the reverse of the release dates of the albums. It's all really an extended version of The Wall with more Nightmare Fuel.
    • That's ironic, considering Roger Waters' enduring hatred of Andrew Lloyd Webber.
  • Joe's Garage by Frank Zappa
    • Also, 200 Motels, ThingFish, Billy The Mountain, The Adventures of Greggery Peccary, and the seven minute mini-rock opera Brown Shoes Don't Make It.
  • Juno And Avos, a Soviet Rock Opera by Alexei Rybnikov and Andrey Voznesenskiy.
  • The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway by Genesis
  • Kilroy Was Here by Styx
  • Lifehouse, initiated by The Who in 1970, ultimately released 30 years later as a Pete Townshend solo album. (Note that Townshend was quite prolific in this genre.) The aborted Who version of Lifehouse is considered by Townshend to form a trilogy with Psychoderelict and Wire and Glass, each of which feature Author Avatar Ray High in different stages of his career.
  • Meat Loaf had two 10-minute operatic suites on his Bat Out Of Hell album; the title track, which songwriter Jim Steinman described as "the ultimate car crash song", and Paradise on the Dashboard Light, which he described as "the ultimate car sex song". Much of the rest of his music has an operatic feel to it, if not necessarily a narrative progression, resulting in the term "Wagnerian rock" being coined to describe him.
    • For good reason: Certain songs on the album were scavenged and rearranged from demos for a sadly-never-produced Peter Pan musical.
  • The Metal Opera, parts one and two, by Avantasia
    • And since then, The Scarecrow, which they subsequently turned into a trilogy with the release of The Wicked Symphony and Angel of Babylon. Avantasia pretty much exists purely for Tobias Sammett to release rock operas.
  • Metropolis Pt.2:Scenes From a Memory by Dream Theater
    • And the title track (i.e. entire second disc) of their Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence album.
  • Nightfall in Middle-Earth by Blind Guardian is somewhere between a Concept Album and a Rock Opera adaptation of JRR Tolkien's The Silmarillion, with operatic metal vocals and spoken interludes.
  • Magica by Dio
  • Nostradamus by Judas Priest
  • The Novelist by Richard Swift is a surprisingly short example, taking only 27 minutes to tell the story of a writer undergoing a nervous breakdown.
  • Operation Mindcrime, and its sequel Operation: Mindcrime II by Queensrÿche
  • Tyranny by Shadow Gallery
  • Room V by Shadow Gallery
  • Zen Arcade by Husker Du
  • Hope Rides Alone and The Father of Death by The Protomen, two parts of an in-progress rock opera trilogy based on Mega Man.
  • Psychoderelict, by Pete Townshend
  • Radio KAOS, by Roger Waters
  • Separation Sunday - The Hold Steady.
  • Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son by Iron Maiden. There's also the saga of Charlotte the Harlot, which is spread over four albums.
    • If the Charlotte series counts, throw Overkill's "Overkill" songs in too. They're currently five songs in.
  • The oft forgotten S.F. Sorrow by the '60s British group, The Pretty Things. S.F. Sorrow tells the story of Sebastian F. Sorrow, who endures World War I, and then returns to his love, who is killed in a dirigible accident. Sorrow falls into a severe state of depression, and is then taken on a journey by the mythical Baron Saturday. The Baron throws Sorrow into a room of mirrors, where he sees the horrible truths and revelations of his life, ending with Sorrow secluding himself from society and building a mental and emotional wall. And this was ten years before Roger Waters had even thought of The Wall yet. Notable for being considered one of the first Rock Operas. Produced at Abbey Road, during the same time The Beatles were recording Sgt. Peppers and Pink Floyd were recording Piper at the Gates of Dawn.
  • The Story of Simon Simopath, a 1967 album by Nirvana (not that Nirvana, the other Nirvana), is said by That Other Wiki to be the earliest example of a rock album containing a single unified narrative.
  • Space Crackers, by indie band Clawjob.
  • Supper's Ready by Genesis, from the album Foxtrot.
  • Tommy by The Who, in reference to which the term "rock opera" was coined.
    • Quadrophenia was their second rock opera. Who's Next started out as a rock opera too. They have also done many mini operas, such as the recent Wire And Glass or the early A Quick One While He's Away.
  • Traveller by Slough Feg
  • White City, by Pete Townshend
  • Tom Waits has four. The Black Rider is based on von Weber's opera Der Freischuetz. Woyzeck (on the album "Blood Money") is based on Büchner's play of the same name. Alice is basically Alice in Wonderland but weirder and with Lewis Carroll as one of the main characters, and Frank's Wild Years is an original story about following your dreams and failing.
  • The Wall by Pink Floyd.
  • The War of the Worlds, a 1978 adaptation of the classic novel, arranged by producer Jeff Wayne and featuring an all-star cast consisting of Richard Burton, Rick Wakeman, David Essex, and numerous others. There is also his less well-known work Spartacus.
  • Iced Earth's album The Dark Saga is a Rock Opera retelling of Spawn's Origin Story.
    • There's also the more recent two-part Something Wicked: Framing Armageddon: Something Wicked, Part 1, and The Crucible of Man: Something Wicked, Part 2.
    • And let's not forget their first rock opera, Night of the Stormrider.
  • Rhapsody (later Rhapsody of Fire) has a Rock Opera called Dark Secret Saga - a rather Tolkien-esque journey to destroy the Dark Lord Nekron's power - that spreads out over two albums ("Symphony of Enchanted Lands II: The Dark Secret" and "Triumph Or Agony"), is narrated by Christopher Lee, and isn't quite over yet.
    • Rhapsody of Fire's first five albums (when they were still just Rhapsody) comprise the Emerald Sword Saga. Sadly, the narrators are not up to Christopher Lee, but the music is often brilliant.
  • King Diamond is to horror what Rhapsody is to fantasy. All but two of their albums tell a story and there are several stories that span multiple albums.
  • Prince Paul's A Prince Among Thieves, notable for being the most high-profile (if not the first) rap opera.
  • A notable failure would be 1981's Music from the Elder by Kiss, which flopped commercially, causing the planned tour and feature film to be cancelled, alienated much of the band's fanbase (those who hadn't already given up on the group after a set of subpar solo albums, a cheesy over-the-top TV movie, a switch to cartoonish superhero-like costumes, two straight disco records and the departure of drummer Peter Criss) and led to the departure of founding lead guitarist Ace Frehley, who opposed the idea of a concept album from the start and hardly appears on it.
  • Clone High did an episode that was billed as a Rock Opera. Jack Black basically convinces all the kids that smoking raisins gets you high, with the typical "dangers of drugs" story as a result. It was very trippy and paid tribute to Tommy and The Beatles a couple of times. The music was actually pretty good.
  • Repo! The Genetic Opera started as a ten minute opera, then was upgraded to a full length stage show, and was also made into a rock opera film.
  • Street Fight Round 1 by Man Factory, a musical roughly based around the plot of the street fighter game series, it's available on their myspace. Round 2 has been released, continuing the story of the first.
  • Kamelot did this recently with their twin albums Epica and Black Halo, which retell the story of Faust to melodic metal.
  • Deltron 3030 by band of the same name is about an intergalactic fight to save hip-hop
  • The double album Snow by Spock's Beard tells the story of the rise and fall of an albino psychic healer. He sets up a ministry in central park tries to use his gifts to help everyone he can. Slowly he burns out though and when he is harshly rejected by a woman he has fallen in love with he breaks down. Eventually he almost dies of a drug overdose, but wakes up in a hospital surrounded by the people he saved and god basically telling him to take it easy. The religious imagery in the album can be seen as a forerunner to the lead singer leaving the band to focus on christian rock.
  • The Hungarian hit István, a király ("Stephen the king").
  • "Tickle Monsters Are Robots", an oddly dark sci-fi epic written by a five-year-old.
  • These Are Not My Pants by Christian band Five Iron Frenzy is parodic rock opera about a person wearing pants of unknown origin.
  • Misty Beethoven: The Musical! is a rock-opera remake of 70's porn The Opening of Misty Beethoven, which was in turn based on the musical My Fair Lady.
  • Dirt by Alice in Chains tell of an addict's battle with drugs and death. (Ironically, it ended the same for the singer in real life)
  • After many, many, many loose Concept Albums such as Ziggy Stardust (one, Diamond Dogs, would have been an outright musical adaptation of 1984 but for copyright negotiations), David Bowie finally wrote a full-fledged Rock Opera with 1. Outside, intended to be the first part of a non-linear concept trilogy, continuing with the planned albums 2. Contamination and 3. Afrikaan. This told the story of a detective in a Cyberpunk Dystopia investigating a rash of murders committed as art. The project was quietly dropped shortly after the supporting tour for the first album, probably due to the lack of critical or public response; and no further work involving the narrative has been done.
  • The Decemberists have a mini-rock opera in The Crane Wife, which isn't quite a concept album, but features three tracks that together tell the story of a Japanese folk tale. The Hazards of Love, however, is a full-blown rock opera concept album about a romance between William (A man that, as a child, was adopted by the Queen of the taiga and turned into a shapeshifting white fawn) and Margaret. Their romance is threatened by the aforementioned Queen (Who is angry at her adopted son having impregnated Margaret), and by a murderous scoundrel called the Rake, who simply wants to kidnap, rape, and presumably murder Margaret. Hopefully in that order. On the way, William and Margaret are aided by the spirits of the forest, and the vengeful ghosts of the Rake's murdered children. William and Margaret die anyway.
  • Fear Factory's Obsolete album depicts a dystopian future where man is ruled by machines and the struggle against it.
  • Fireaxe are a Power/Thrash metal band consisting soley of Brian Voth on every instrument. Every album is a rock opera but their most epic example has to be their 2003, 3 disc, 4 hour magnum opus Food for the Gods. Every track tells a chapter in the history of humanity and the way our beliefs in various gods shape it. As deities come and go people fight and battle eachother, pay tribute and devote their lives to their glory. The whole thing culminates with a Rage Against the Heavens of such epic porportions that no other form of media has ever matched it. And the best part? All of Fireaxe's music is public domain and can be downloaded legally for free.
  • The Hold Steady, while never going so far as to write a full-on Rock Opera have such an incestuous musical canon that you could probably construct one with minimal effort and at least one album seems dedicated to the experiences of 'Holly', a Catholic schoolgirl in way over her head with the local indie/druggie scene.
  • Depending on who you ask, Tool's Lateralus
  • Excluding the eponimous Mägo de Oz, La Bruja, and Belfast all Mägo de Oz albums are this. In fact Gaia, Gaia II: La Voz Dormida and Gaia III: Atlantia form a trilogy
  • Rick Wakeman had the chutzpah to make a musical version of ... Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell! Recommended for aficionados of Rock Opera. Wakeman's discography also includes rock operas based on Journey To The Center Of The Earth and the legend of King Arthur, along with an instrumental Concept Album about the wives of Henry VIII.
  • 10cc's One Night In Paris is a mini-rock-opera (about 10 minutes long) regarding an American tourist's experiences in the French capital.
  • In Home Movies, garage band SCAB does a rock opera based on Franz Kafka, with specific focus on his novella The Metamorphosis including the ballad "Living Like A Bug Ain't Easy". Brendon also films a rock opera "Timmy" an affectionate parody of The Who's Tommy.
  • To a certain extent, the Madness album The Liberty of Norton Folgate could be considered as one (although the songs aren't technically rock). The first track is called Overture, which introduces a lot of the melodic ideas which appear later on and leads directly into We Are London. Most of the songs on the album - such as Sugar and Spice and NW 5 - tell stories about either growing up in London or travelling through London (except for Africa, which instead ends with an instrumental extract of the title track). The Liberty of Norton Folgate itself is a ten minute long story about the sights, sounds and history of the eponymous area of London.
  • To an extent, "Get Equipped" and the "Megatianment Ep" from The Megas are a sort of rock opera, taking music from the Mega Man series and telling the story of the games via songs focusing on the Robot Masters. It's darker in tone than the games, with songs like "Lamentations of a War Machine" and "Look What You've Done" viewing Mega Man's actions in a darker light.
  • Rent was a highly successful rock opera.
  • Casey Crescenzo (formerly of The Receiving End of Sirens) has a side-project-turned-main-project called The Dear Hunter that tells the story of the titular Dear Hunter. Six acts are planned, each act as a separate album (with the exception of Act I, which is an EP). Three acts are currently released.
  • The first two albums by Dragonland fall under this category.
  • Berlin by Lou Reed.
  • The Ghost Ship demos EP, re-released in 2008 as Phantom on the Horizon, tells the tale of a Spanish Galleon meeting with a ghost ship from another dimension.
  • Mozart l'Opera Rock (Mozart: a Rock Opera in English) by French composer Dove Attia, claims to be exactly what it is, a rock-opera biography of Mozart. Your Mileage May Vary on whether this thing contains any element of rock or even opera...
  • Orgy's Vapor Transmission is somewhere between this and a Concept Album, telling a science-fiction space adventure story that is apparently based on people and situations that the band members really knew and saw. The only thing that makes it walk the line with concept album is that it isn't clear if the protagonist of later songs really is Suckerface, the identity of the female characters after Fiction is unclear, and there's one song about a friend of the band's mother that nonetheless talks about computery themes.
  • Hadestown, written by Anaïs Mitchell, is a re-telling of the Orpheus legend set in a vaguely Depression-era US. The album draws extensively from folk, blues and jazz traditions and boasts a cast of well-known folk and indie-folk vocalists, ranging from Justin Vernon and Ani Di Franco to Greg Brown and Ben Knox Miller.
  • Tallahassee by The Mountain Goats is an entire album that tells the story of a married couple who move into a slummy house in Florida. As their marriage swiftly turns from troubled to a drinking game to see who dies first, the house begins decaying rapidly until it burns down with them as they happily embrace death.
  • Anathallo's album Floating World included "Hanasakajiji", a four-part adaptation of the Japanese folk tale "Old Man Cherry-Blossom".
  • Legend of the Bone Carver by Pyramaze
  • Vanden Plas' last two, Christ 0 and Seraphic Clockwork, fit the bill, as does lead singer Andy Kuntz's side project Abydos.
  • Saviour Machine is three albums into their Legend series, which goes through the book of Revelation.
  • And then there's Cage's Hell Destroyer, which is like the book of Revelation filtered through a comic book.
  • Amaseffer's Slaves For Life is based on the Exodus.
  • Orphaned Land's Mabool is based on Noah's Ark and various other ancient flood stories.
  • Jag Panzer had Thane to the Throne, an adaptation of Macbeth.
  • Virgin Steele have several rock operas under their belt... pretty much everything from Invictus on.
  • Ahab's 2 albums to date have both been rock operas. Crushingly heavy funeral doom rock operas, but rock operas nonetheless. And given the band's name, it shouldn't be too hard to guess their favorite theme.
  • Janelle Monae's Metropolis Suite is a four-suite tale with inspirations in Fritz Lang's Metropolis, telling the story of android Cindi Mayweather on the run from the civic authorities of a futuristic city for falling in love with a human.
  • The album Terrifyer by deathgrind band Pig Destroyer is, if not a rock opera, certainly sequential of narrative. It details the narrator's obsession with Natasha, the 'Terrifyer' of the title.
  • Colonel Jeffery Pumpernickel: A Concept Album is unusual for being both an original rock opera and a various artists compilation: Chris Slusarenko came up with a thoroughly confusing version of the standard Rock Opera Plot, then got indie rock acts like Guided By Voices, Stephen Malkmus, and Grandaddy to write and perform songs based around it.
  • Willie Nelson's Red Headed Stranger surely counts as a Country Opera...
  • Donald Fagen's Kamakiriad. A Twenty Minutes Into the Future album about a man and his car.
  • Kitchens of Distinction's Death Of Cool is arguably a Rock Opera. This is unconfirmed as the lyrics in the songs seem to be telling a story, but lead singer Patrick Fitzgerald has yet to say. It seems to be telling the story of a young man growing up in the wake of the AIDS epidemic.
  • Rocky Horror Picture Show
  • Sound Horizon has created a number of these, such as Moira and Marchen.
  • Tom Russell wrote one of the most famous folk operas of the 1990s, his 1999 release The Man From Nowhere. It took him 10 years to write, tracing his family tree back over a hundred years to do so, but boy does it pay off. Each and every character is developed in an incredibly strong way, and the lyrics have amazing effort put into them.
  • The cut Villain Song "Biggering" from The Lorax.
  • The Divine Conspiracy by Epica could also qualify. It's a concept album that turns around the concept of religion from the view of a character.