I had always wanted to use the quote above, which paraphrases from a remark made by General Canrobert upon witnessing the charge of the Light Brigade to their certain deaths in the Crimean War, as the title to a review of The Final Cut, but now Roger Waters presents me with a far better subject for such a review title.
Ironies linger. A previous reviewer has remarked, perhaps defensively, about Roger Waters' disdain for Andrew Lloyd Webber, made so wonderfully overt in Amused To Death. But there is no fine distinction between musical and opera that I know of - and I have no doubt Lloyd Webber too would like to be taken more seriously as a classical composer than he is. The opera set are a hellishly snobbish crowd, and not just any Johnny-Come-Lately will be feted as a genuine composer. Undoubtedly Roger Waters - who is, after all, a ROCK MUSICIAN, will find himself in exactly the same spot as Lloyd Webber, though on the strength of past comments, I doubt he will get much sympathy from him.
That said, this is a very presentable, listenable, outing, and it sounds cracking in 5.1 surround sound on the SACD. I dare say Puccini won't be rocking in his box - nor would Waters be expecting him to - but while it doesn't forge any new ground in orchestral music what Ca Ira does do is help contextualise much of Waters earlier, more overtly rock, oeuvre. There is something undeniably symphonic about Waters' use of themes and motifs through his music and I think this might explain his much talked-about lack of melody (though how anyone could accuse "The Gunner's Dream", or "Nobody Home", or "Southampton Dock" of lacking melody is beyond me): rather than writing three minute pop songs, Waters is more interested in focussing on making a broader musical statement.
Certainly, and just as with his earlier rock records, familiar themes - on grand scales and small ones - abound. The opening riff from The Wall's "In The Flesh" - as transliterated into "Dunroamin, Duncarin, Dunlivin" on The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking - is further adjusted and used as a recurring motif on the first side of Ca Ira. The shrieking, fade out voice from the end of "One of My Turns" is reprised - admittedly by a powerful tenor, but the similarity is unmistakeable. The happy sounds of summer from "Goodbye Blue Sky" are back, and I thought I heard the chord progression resembling the one from "The Gunner's Dream" also. Waters does make several cameo appearances, ordering the firing squads in the manner of Pink in The Wall. In one piece, the cellos are, I'm sure, playing the riff to the Bee Gee's Tragedy. Not sure if that was a deliberate reference, though.
Nevertheless, the old boy has definitely mellowed. An accompanying DVD shows him lounging around during the writing of the opera on the lawn of his stately mansion in Hampshire with his French librettists, showing more of the leg and chest of a stately gentleman than a commoner really ought to see. But the control-freakery hasn't entirely abated: during vocal recording sessions he would sit right on the soloist' shoulder and comment on the performance of takes, sometimes even singing along. Bryn Terfel didn't look altogether thrilled to be told how to sing by a man who famously sounds like a cat being strangled.
The result, however, is undeniably an audiophile masterpiece. I don't know much about classical music apart from what I like, but this sounds positively peachy. Some particularly super guillotine effects sweep across the soundstage from time to time (perhaps in lieu of the missile from Get Your Filthy Hands Off My Desert).
It's early days. A new piece by Roger Waters takes months to fully get itself inside your head. Give it time. But don't mourn the missing electric guitar.