Pete Townshend premiered his Classic Quadrophenia to a sold out audience at the Royal Albert Hall in London on Sunday night. The wonderful new orchestral rendition of The Who’s 1973 rock opera was performed by a steller cast of vocalists – including opera star Alfie Boe, Pete Townshend, Phil Daniels, and Billy Idol, who were backed by the magnificent 80 piece Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Robert Ziegler, and the full London Oriana Choir.
This performance brings to the stage the same set of excellent musicians responsible for the groundbreaking Deutsche Grammophon recording of Classic Quadrophenia that was released in June 2015. This project evolved from Pete's concerted effort to document all of his major works so that future generations can perform his compositions in an orchestral setting that is a close representation of the original rock rendition. He worked closely with his chosen orchestrator and life partner, Rachel Fuller, to come up with an orchestral translation of this rock classic that is poised to transcend the barrier of rock and classical music.
This production brought in a fresh breath of air and vibrancy to a very well established industry that is usually renowned for being reserved and a bit conservative, and Pete takes it on with the grace and dignity that we would expect from him. At the same time, the audience for this show mixed in a rather large contingent of rock fans, working as a great support center and bringing the RAH to life. The hall was completely full of the energy, emotion and movement that is usually experienced at rock shows or sporting events, but not so often at classical concerts. It appears that Pete has tapped into something new and important for that genre, and instead of snubbing his work as was recently the case with the hard nosed pundits who run the classical records charts, this work should be embraced as a new direction and means to bring an important and large group of fans to classical music.
Pete participates in this new production, and appears on three songs, first taking on the appropriate role of Godfather in the Punk and the Godfather, and later playing acoustic guitar on his signature songs, I’m One and Drowned. The boisterous crowd at the Royal Albert Hall erupted whenever he came on the stage, and Pete did a wonderful job acting out the role of the Godfather, sans guitar. His trademark fast strumming flamenco style of guitar on the other tunes was gorgeous as usual, and meshed well with the orchestra, but was a little lower in the mix from his usual performances. It was a pleasure to see him participate in this premier, and it was very apparent just how much he enjoyed being a part of this whole thing. It must have been a dream come true for him to finally reach this very important milestone in his career.
Alfie Boe delivered a powerful performance in the lead role of Jimmy, taking full command of the complicated vocal requirements to cross the bridge between rock and opera in order to soar above the immense ocean of instrumentation that backed him up. He brought an emotional edge that was needed to bring the character of Jimmy to life, and his athletic stance and handsome good looks were exciting to watch.
Phil Daniels and Billy Idol were also fabulous, both with strong connections to Quadrophenia over the years. Phil, who starred as Jimmy in the 1979 movie, now plays Jimmy’s dad, complete with the appropriate cockney accent. Billy Idol reprised his critical role as the Ace Face and Bell Boy, which he performed as the guest star during The Who’s 1996/97 tour of Quadrophenia. The interplay and chemistry between all the characters was dynamic, and it looked like they were all having a blast performing together. They did a great job of acting out the roles, and brought an important theatrical element to the evening.
The orchestration work by Rachel Fuller is absolutely stunning throughout the production, and especially on the opening song, I Am the Sea, and the two instrumentals, Quadrophenia and The Rock. Listening to these beautiful pieces brought tears to the eyes at times, they were so powerful. Rachel really should be commended for her work here, which took many years to complete to this level of perfection. Pete must be very proud!
Congratulations to Pete, Rachel, Alfie, Phil, Billy, Robert, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and the London Oriana Choir. It looks like you all have a bona fide hit on your hands!
For more information on Classic Quadrophenia, and to view our photo gallery, videos, reviews and articles, check out our Classic Quadrophenia concert page!