By Carl Begai
So, Finnish classical metalhead quartet Apocalyptica have issued an audio-visual tribute to famed composer Richard Wagner. So what, right? Three cellists and a drummer paying homage to one of the greats in classical music is hardly a stretch for folks that cut their teeth in the realms of the genre; at least one would think so. But, in actual fact Wagner Reloaded – a live performance shot in Leipzig, Germany to celebrate the anniversary of the composer’s 200th birthday – is the band’s most ambitious project to date. On top of original music composed in the spirit of Wagner by Apocalyptica mastermind Eicca Toppinen, the production features a choreography, dancers numbering close to 100, projectors, moving props, and even a fire breathing dragon. Wagner Reloaded is a bold theater piece more than anything, so damn big that the script probably came stamped with “Logistical Nightmare” on the cover.
Begging the simple question: Why?
“It was really intriguing to be a part of it,” laughs drummer Mikko Sirén, agreeing that the project does sound slightly insane. “We’ve been asked to do all kinds of classical collaborations and projects over the years, and it finally felt tight. The choreographer Gregor Seyffert is behind it all; it was his vision to do this kind of project, and it was that vision that made it really interesting for us to work with the guy. He’s renowned in his own field, he’s a beyond amazing dancer and choreographer, and his energy in how he approaches things inspired us.”
“The whole production idea comes from Gregor, and when we first started talking about it he was saying stuff like ‘The stage is going to be 60 meters long…’ and we were laughing our asses off. ‘Yeah yeah, 60 meters my ass’ (laughs). A lot of times you meet people with crazy visions and no reality behind it, so when this started to evolve and we saw the place we couldn’t believe our eyes. Everything Gregor said was exactly so, and sometimes even bigger than what he’d said.”
“We were very happy with Gregor’s approach. Wagner is a controversial person and there’s lots of shit written about him, but in the classical works he’s the kind of person that you can’t criticize even though you should. Wagner was kind of a dick when it came to his political views, so we were careful and precise in making sure that people wouldn’t see Apocalyptica as sharing Wagner’s political ideas. For us this was only about the music.”
Asked if there was a specific point when the band realized the magnitude of Wagner Reloaded as a full production, Mikko says it sank in slowly rather than being hit over the head with it.
“For me it was really late in the production. For Eicca it was at a much earlier stage because he composed the music all by himself and spent a lot of time talking with Gregor about it. He kept telling us all these numbers and all these things like ‘There’s going to be this dragon spitting fire and we’re going to play inside it…’ and again we were like, ‘Yeah right.’ Eicca was convinced, but I think for the rest of the band it started to be real when we went to Leipzig three weeks before the show. We were shown our rehearsal room, and I’d make a bet that it was the biggest rehearsal room of all time (laughs). It was in the convention center and it was ridiculous. You could have put two jumbo jets in there, it was such a big fucking hall. We put our equipment dead center in the room and it looked ridiculous. There was a second hall which was the convention area where the dancers rehearsed. There was a big stage, which we were told was half the size of the real stage. When we saw the place where we were going to play we finally realized just how big the production was.”
“This was a very special production in that Eicca did all the music himself. For the last four Apocalyptica albums everyone has contributed to composing the songs, but this is 100% Eicca. We came in at the end, where I rearranged some of the drum parts. I’d say about 80% of the music is original Apocalyptica material. There are three or four Wagner pieces and one Beethoven. At one point this began to feel like our version of Pink Floyd’s The Wall. Sort of like Apocalyptica’s ode to Roger Waters (laughs).”
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