NOAH ADAMS, host:

Operatic arias don't usually go hand-in-hand with rock and roll arrangements. But a group known as the East Village Opera Company mixes Mozart, Verdi, and Puccini with power cords, drum kits, and arena rock. The Hearing Voices Radio Project brings us the story of the company which is made up of a five-piece band along with a string quartet and two vocalists.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. TYLEE ROSS (The East Village Opera Company): My name is Tylee Ross, and I am one of the singers and founding members of the band The East Village Opera company.

Mr. PETER KIESEWALTER (The East Village Opera Company): I'm Peter Kiesewalter. I do most of the arrangements. I'm the guy that bastardizes this music.

Mr. ROSS: He's the mad genius behind The East Village Opera Company.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. KIESEWALTER: The pomposity of opera lends itself well to the majesty of rock. You know, all those rock clichés like doing Eddie Van Halen hammer ons, or as drummer, to play great around the drum kit as fast as possible. That is heartedly encouraged in this group.

(Soundbite of man singing in foreign language)

Mr. ROSS: I would never tell anybody I'm an opera singer. That would be an insult to opera singers. I don't have the chops of an opera singer. I don't have the training of an opera singer and girth.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ROSS: Well, I'm working on that.

(Soundbite of man singing in foreign language)

Mr. ROSS: We're just playing great songs. We know that they're opera songs, and we certainly have an appeal amongst people who love opera music, but we're just playing great songs.

(Soundbite of man singing in foreign language)

Mr. ROSS: La donna è mobile, Verde knew that it was going to become very popular instantly. And in his time, gondoliers and street singers would sometimes learn the songs the day that an opera opened or listening in on rehearsals. These songs would be out on the street before...

Mr. KIESEWALTER: Before iTunes even got it, or...

Mr. ROSS: Yeah, exactly. Before it was being legally downloaded.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. ROSS: Opera wasn't something that was for the very rich and very highly educated. It was for everybody.

Mr. KIESEWALTER: A composer like Mozart wasn't using baroque instruments. He wasn't using boots. He was using modern instruments. So I think if he were alive today, he'd be using electric guitar, computers, and drums--perhaps the orchestra as well. I'm not sure, but they were writing music that they were hoping would be sung in the streets the next day.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. KIESEWALTER: The overture to the Marriage of Figaro, one of the greatest opera overtures ever written, one of the first operas to portray common folk as heroes on stage, which for its time--you've got to remember this is in the years leading up to the French Revolution. It was pretty subversive stuff, particularly the plot about a slave outwitting his master and, you know, sticking it to the man--which is kind of what reference we make to Won't Get Fooled Again, whose song is all about as well.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. ROSS: I don't think there's anything really sophisticated about the stories that are being told in opera there. The stories that are being told from generation to generation, these stories, a lot of them, exist really well in a foreign language where people don't have to know how bad the lyrics really are.

(Soundbite of woman singing in foreign language)

Mr. KIESEWALTER: You know, I think you can have a bad libretto and great music and it's still great opera. Case in point, the whole premise of the Pearl Fishers, from which we do the Au fond du temple saint, that duet, is a little bit goofy and kind of silly story. These two friends reunite and both recount having been infatuated with a particular woman who they vow not to mess up their friendship. That's the basic premise of that duet.

(Soundbite of woman singing in foreign language)

Mr. ROSS: AnnMarie Milazzo, she joined us about a year and a half ago, came in as a guest singer, and was such a hit that...

Mr. KIESEWALTER: Left as a superstar.

Mr. ROSS: Yeah, she's wildly talented. She's a writer of musicals, and she's got a couple of musicals that are moving towards production on Broadway.

(Soundbite of man and woman singing in foreign language)

Mr. KIESEWALTER: We like to mess with gender a little bit. I mean, there's another duet on the record, the Flower duet, Lakmé, normally sung by a mezzo soprano and a soprano. And in our version, it's a guy and a girl. So we don't feel we have to remain faithful to the key, to arrangement, not even gender, necessarily.

(Soundbite of man and woman singing in foreign language)

Mr. KIESEWALTER: One of the things that attracts to this music in the first place is the melodic genius of the composers, and I think a great song can be played with just simple guitar accompaniment or an accordion or by a monkey grinder for that matter. These melodies are so beautiful that they can withstand drastic rearrangement. The most important thing in, especially this later Italian and French opera, is the melody and emotional core.

(Soundbite of man and woman singing in foreign language)

Mr. KIESEWALTER: I think all the classic artists need to be put on their head a little bit, turned upside down for them to survive.

(Soundbite of man and woman singing in foreign language)

ADAMS: Our feature on the East Village Opera Company and their self-titled CD comes to us from producer Barrett Golding of the Hearing Voices Radio Project. And to hear more music from the East Village Opera Company, it's npr.org.

More just ahead on DAY TO DAY.

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