Ca Ira - The DVD (with exclusive download preview)

Ca Ira - The DVD
Ca Ira - The DVD

Written and Directed by Adrian Maben

CLICK HERE to launch an exclusive excerpt from "Ca Ira - The DVD", or download it. It is 6.8MB, and so can even be downloaded by those with a modem internet link. It is in the popular Quicktime format, and is exclusive to the Brain Damage website.

Over fifteen long years in the making, Roger Waters new Classical opera "Ca Ira" will undoubtedly stir up very strong opinions across the Popular and Classical Music worlds. It is actually amazing to realize that we are finally here. The genesis of this project began with Roger's first meetings with Etienne and Nadine Roda-Gil in 1988, a year before the Bicentennial of the French Revolution, for the purpose of providing music for their fifty page libretto.

Roger was so transfixed by Nadine's beautiful illustrations and Etienne's French libretto, essentially lyrics telling the history of the French Revolution, that there was no turning back.

These early meetings came together through mutual friends; Philippe Constantin (from French Pathe Marconi/EMI), Etienne and Roger whom together shared similar interests in music, art and politics. Enthusiastic and inspired, Roger began constructing early demos at the upstairs studio in his Hampshire home. These first forays into classical composition became known as "demo 1". This was long before Sony Classical took a real interest in the project, later to strongly persuade Roger to translate the French libretto into English.

Ca Ira - The DVD
Ca Ira - Nadine's illustrations
No one could have ever anticipated the tragic events yet to come. The making of "Ca Ira" (Roger's translation is "There is Hope") was wrought with many trials and travails along the course of its creation.

"Ca Ira" is also singularly one of the most ambitious projects in which an established rock musician has ever embarked. This multi-faceted opera became a life-affirming testament to perseverance and commitment.

Over the last ten years film director Adrian Maben, whom we all came to know well through the original and Director's Cut of Live at Pompeii, documented the project through its many incarnations, from conception to completion. This project includes revelatory interviews with Waters and the cast of "Ca Ira" as well as exclusive in-the-studio footage of the recording of the opera. That anyone would follow through with a film documentary for that long a duration is amazing in itself, but then art knows no limits.

The first thing that strikes you about "CA IRA, The DVD" is how relaxed the overall atmosphere is. The conversations between the principal characters flow naturally and intuitively. This is how everyone would imagine the ideal environment for creativity. You come away with the feeling that you are part of the conversation rather than just an observer. Roger plays many roles - creator, collaborator and music coordinator to name just three.

Ca Ira - The DVD
Roger supervising orchestrations
It is refreshing to observe his genuine enthusiasm throughout all stages of "Ca Ira." In a testament to the passage of time, the early scenes some ten years ago picture Roger with dark hair, chatting in his studio with Etienne; two men on the verge of discovery. Leap forward ten years to the present, we find a silver-haired Roger brimming with confidence, his Opera finally complete and brilliant.

The first "Ca Ira" tragedy struck in 1990 when Nadine dies of leukemia shattering her husband Etienne. During their first meeting Roger found Nadine to be full of life and unwavering in her resolve; "She struck me as being very intense - a bit spiky, like she was not going to take any crap from anyone, even me!" Roger did not know at the time Nadine was quite sick, which amazed him even more, considering the quality and quantity of work she produced in her last years. Looking back Roger reflected, "She was absolutely focused on this piece of work. Her illness focused her to produce an extraordinary amount of work." Also in this period of time, from 1990 onwards, Roger is consumed in the recording and promotion of Amused To Death, his last Rock studio record released in 1992. The "Ca Ira" project is shelved for almost five years.

In 1995, Roger began work on "Ca Ira" again, picking up the momentum when he decides to work with orchestrator Rick Wentworth. Rick was a good choice as collaborator, also an excellent musician in his own right. In his Hampshire studio, Roger and Rick began to notate the score on what was at the time an ancient Atari computer, painstakingly moving the music notes from computer to paper in order to facilitate a more efficient composing process. Roger explains that no one in their right mind would use this kind of computer and software system now. The American company Emagic, Roger expanded, has since come out with Logic and Logic Pro which has become the music composing standard now. Fast-forward to the present - Emagic Logic Pro is now owned and marketed by Apple. For chronology purposes, recording sessions during this period became known as "demo 2".

Ca Ira - The DVD
Roger Waters at work
The second "Ca Ira" tragedy struck in 1996 when Philippe Constantin, the messenger who had originally introduced Etienne and Nadine Roda-Gil, dies of malaria. In July 1997, "Ca Ira" sessions pick up again with French baritone Jean-Luc Chaignaud at Abbey Road Studios. Roger tells Director Adrian Maben that it was this session that helped to convince Sony Classical to collaborate and co-produce the record of "Ca Ira."

The opera is undergoing major changes at this point. It is obvious that Sony's decision to become fully involved in "Ca Ira" has geared up the commercial crossover potential for Roger's new operatic work. Over the course of "CA IRA, The DVD" we are introduced to the opera's three main vocalists: Welsh bass-baritone Bryn Terfel, Chinese soprano Ying Huang, and American tenor Paul Groves. It will be these internationally acclaimed singers who will expand the musical accessibility of "Ca Ira" to potentially a worldwide audience.

The choice of language was perhaps the next significant change of direction for "Ca Ira." In 1997, Roger began writing an English version of the text. "Originally there was no intention of making an English version," he said, "I just assumed we'd record it in French and that would be that, you know. But after Sony Classical became involved they asked me to make an English version, and eventually after a lot of resistance I relented, and I am very glad that I did because it made me think more about the ideas that were involved in it. It forced me to look at the opera as more of a theatrical piece as well. After I had done the translations, I started to write other bits of narrative to help move the plot along, and I think it has helped the piece. I am very glad I had my arm twisted by the record company to do that."

Ca Ira - The DVD
Adrian Maben & Etienne Roda-Gil
Orchestral and choral sessions for "Ca Ira" begin in November 1998, continuing through February 1999. Conducting the 80 piece orchestra at London's Air Studios was Rick Wentworth with Roger in the control room supervising every note, and often singing or miming every word from every scene. Expertly composed, "Ca Ira" orchestration is richly detailed and dynamic, ebbing and flowing as naturally as breathing.

Early on in the "Ca Ira" project, Roger expressed "The fact is that classically trained musicians tend to work from the page. It's hard to get orchestras to play with feel, you know, it's hard to get an orchestra to find the groove!" One of the main instruments is actually the red telephone in the control room (which is a direct link to Rick and the orchestra), played with great skill by Roger!

For me personally, the most rewarding aspect of having the DVD is watching the evolution of a track, specifically "Silver, Sugar and Indigo." Roger wanted to give a more authentic African feel to the piece by doing sessions at Studios de la Seine with a group of Senegalese drummers. While Classical musicians tend to go by the score, rock musicians go by feel, something which you can not put down on paper.

As with most creative endeavors, trial and error was also the rule with "Ca Ira." As Roger explains - "This whole section with these guys was me floundering a bit. I could not work out how to make the "Silver, Sugar and Indigo" section work. I thought of using Burrundi drummers and all sorts of things. But as time went on I came to realize more and more, that if this piece was going to homogenize with the whole opera, it was going to be necessary to create whatever effect I could using the standard effects of a large orchestra, chorus and singers like all the other pieces. The one exception to this general rule is Ismael Lo singing the lead tenor part. There's something so African about the way he phrases both in French and English."

Ca Ira - The DVD
Ismael Lo and Roger Waters
Recording sessions continue in March 2000 at Guillaune Tell Studios in Suresnes near Paris. There, the first of the principal characters of "Ca Ira" are brought to life by two international vocalists. Senegalese "one man orchestra" Ismael Lo brings an African influence to "Silver, Sugar and Indigo" which merges into "To the Windward Isles," a huge production piece clocking in at nearly five minutes. Chinese soprano Ying Huang cuts several tracks including her extraordinary performance of "Dances and Marches." Here, Roger explains how Ying brings a fresh flavour to "Ca Ira," simply because she is obviously neither French or English.

Watching the two interact in the recording studio is simultaneously amusing and revelatory. During the "Ca Ira" recording sessions, Roger encourages and corrects each of the vocalists, always with great humour and comraderie. If nothing else, you will come away from "CA IRA, The DVD" with a brand new perspective on how Roger works and elicits the best performance out of every musician.

We come to a change of scenery in April 2001 as Roger is interviewed on The Big Wheel in Paris. A number of topics are covered; soprano Ying Huang's unique approach to opera singing, the problems of language and what is wrong with contemporary English opera. The locale of The Big Wheel is significant because it sits on the location where Marie-Antoinette was guillotined. It also offers a unique and changing view of the Louvre, the Tuileries Gardens and the area where the Tuileries Palace used to stand. Adrian Maben has pointed out that this is the same Big Wheel that was first assembled for the Bicentennial celebrations of the French Revolution in July 1989. As the Big Wheel turns Roger comments dryly, "It's just another revolution."

May and June 2001 marks the beginning of recording sessions at Sony Studios in London. American tenor Paul Groves and Welsh bass-baritone Bryn Terfel each do very insightful interviews and discuss their motivations for getting involved with "Ca Ira." Paul Groves looks to the future of Classical as a "kind of fusion of worlds: rock, Broadway, classical, reggae - all these things coming into one, which makes it very exciting, you know, it's something new." His excitement with "Ca Ira" peaked "when I first picked up this piece and was reading it at the piano - it was about emotion and that's why I do this job."

Ca Ira - The DVD
Ying Huang & Roger Waters
"Ca Ira" was a good chance for Bryn Terfel to experiment citing: "I come to a session without any preconceived ideas," he says, "And I'm ready to work and the slate is absolutely clean." "Ca Ira" recording sessions are going very well now and enthusiasm for the project is at a high point.

The third "Ca Ira" tragedy struck in 2004, and this time it is a major catastrophe - Etienne Roda-Gil dies of a stroke. Etienne was perhaps the closest friend and collaborator Roger had on the project. Memories of Nadine, Philippe and now Etienne are everywhere in "CA IRA, The DVD" and their images on the video suddenly become very special. After Etienne's death, the nagging question returns one more time, "Will Roger ever finish Ca Ira?"

Finally in the first months of 2005, Roger is driven to finish "Ca Ira." He tweaks the audio tracks and adds simple but effective sound effects. And Simon Rhodes, the sound engineer, also does a remarkable job completing the final mix. There were times when people expressed doubts if "Ca Ira" would be completed, but as Rick Wentworth said "the great thing about Roger is that when he starts something he sticks to it." "Ca Ira" now stands complete - the only real question is, how will the music world react to Roger Waters brave new music?

Watching "CA IRA, The DVD" reminds us all that liberty isn't without some sort of sacrifice, "Not withstanding that it is rooted in the history of the French Revolution," said Roger, "it is about revolution in the broadest sense, it is about change and it is about personal change, and the idea which I'm now getting into my English version is that we each have within us the potential for republic. By that I mean the potential to empathize with others to a point where we choose more humane options. I guess that is why Etienne wrote the libretto in the first place. You know, he had this feeling that this is an important story for everyone."

Ca Ira - The DVD
View the editing schema used by Adrian Maben
during the creation of the documentary
I leave the last quote to Director Adrian Maben, who beautifully wrote and directed "CA IRA, The DVD" to give us his lasting impressions of historic Paris - "It’s odd how the spirit of The French Revolution still lives on in Paris today. Not only on a personal level (“Republic Lies Within”) but also in day to day life. For example, when you take the metro you cannot fail to hear the names of the stations being spelt out: Bastille, Palais Royal, Louvre, Tuileries, Concorde, Republique... And in the gardens of the Palais Royal you can still make a pilgrimage to the spot where Camille Desmoulins gave his rousing speech on July 13th 1789. Twenty-four hours later the Bastille had fallen. For me, "Ca Ira" has been ten years of laughter and sadness, of learning, of understanding that emotion was (and still is), without any doubt, the essence of Roger’s music. Roger is more pragmatic. He simply refers to it as getting a shiver up the spine.”

Sony BMG Masterworks/Columbia Records releases Roger Waters "Ca Ira" on September 27th. Here's what you need to know: "Ca Ira" is an opera in three acts for full orchestra, soloists and choirs. The "Ca Ira" DVD comes packaged in the lavish first edition of "Ca Ira," the audio CDs are Hybrid SACD, which will play on any CD player, but sound especially dynamic and rich when played on a Super Audio capable CD player.

The lavish double SACD Digipack also contains a 60 page four-color booklet with Roger Waters' lyrics based on Etienne Roda-Gil's original French libretto, the original illustrations created by Nadine Roda-Gil, biographies of Waters and the opera's cast, background and production notes on the opera. A standard two CD edition is also available without the DVD or book.

To maximize the full sensory impact of "Ca Ira," I recommend having both the DVD and CDs as they are complimentary and inseparable. All whom experience "Ca Ira" in any form, will certainly approach it with great curiosity, if not some trepidation. This is a normal reaction to anything brand new - to really enjoy Roger Waters new music requires an open mind, fresh ears and a considerable amount of patience. "Ca Ira" then rewards the listener exponentially with its rich lyrical concept and sweeping sonic beauty. To fully experience "Ca Ira" and its accompanying DVD is to open your heart to a journey of enlightenment.

Written by Brain Damage's Paul Powell Jr., September 2005

- The Making of "Ca Ira" DVD (for quotes)
- Official Sony/BMG press release for Ca Ira (info)
- Ca Ira: Dates and Notes by Adrian Maben (chronology, info, and quotes)
- (official Sony Classical site) (info)

The digipack version of Ca Ira, which includes the DVD, can be ordered through the following special links: Amazon UK/Elsewhere, US/International, Canada, France, or Germany.