Musical Borrowing
An Annotated Bibliography

Individual record

[+] McLeod, Ken. "Bohemian Rhapsodies: Operatic Influences on Rock Music." Popular Music 20 (May 2001): 189-203.

Although opera and rock music are seemingly situated on different sides of a cultural, stylistic, and aesthetic divide, rock and pop songs of the 1970s and later have occasionally appropriated some style characteristics from opera. Although many rock works are considered "rock operas" and some classical works were written by rock musicians, none of these works owes much to the stylistic norms of the other genre. On the other hand, a work like Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody (from the 1974 album A Night at the Opera) does incorporate many operatic characteristics, such as a cappella vocals, lamenting ballads, sarcastic recitatives, distorted operatic phraseology, underworld motifs, and so forth. These characteristics are not instances of direct borrowing of any operatic source, but are rather more general features of the style, integrated and exaggerated as a parody. Punk rock artists in the 1980s like Nina Hagen, Klaus Nomi, and Malcolm McLaren incorporated opera more directly, with more reverence for the genre, and with the intention of promoting female and homosexual voices. Hagen incorporated expressionist operatic influences and coloratura technique into her music. Nomi appropriated entire operatic arias into his eclectic music, including Handel's aria "Total Eclipse" from Samson, not as a parody but rather with a camp aesthetic. McLaren created dance-rock versions of grand opera, including "Un bel dì" from Madama Butterfly and the "The Flower Duet" from Délibe's Lakmé.

Works: Freddie Mercury (songwriter), Queen (performers): Bohemian Rhapsody (192-194); Nina Hagen: New York, New York (196); Kristian Hoffman (songwriter), Klaus Nomi (performer): Total Eclipse (197-98); Purcell (composer), Klaus Nomi (arranger/performer): The Cold Song (197); Saint-Saëns (composer), Klaus Nomi (arranger/performer): Samson and Delilah (Aria) (197); Malcolm McLaren: Madame Butterfly (198-99).

Sources: David Bowie: Fashion (196); Purcell: King Arthur (197); Saint-Saëns: Samson et Dalila (197); Handel: Samson (197-98); Puccini: Madama Butterfly (198-99); Délibe: Lakmé (199).

Index Classifications: 1900s, Popular

Contributed by: Mark Chilla

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