published Friday, April 15th, 2011

Trans-Siberian Orchestra brings over-the-top progressive-rock opera to Memorial

To hear founder and producer Paul O’Neill tell the story, Trans-Siberian Orchestra should have its own chapter in the Guinness Book of World Records.

With multimillion-dollar production budgets, including vivid light shows, full orchestral backing and about 20 vocalists onstage, TSO is certainly a study in musical excess. Since it was founded in 1995, TSO has performed in more than 80 cities to 7 million people — more than the population of Jamaica and Ireland combined.

O’Neill, a former hard-rock producer, said he never takes the group’s success for granted.

“The fans own TSO, and the minute we forget that is when the band starts to decline,” he said. “I always tell new kids when they join the band that we’re not entitled to these millions of dollars every year or these millions of tickets. We have to earn it every night. There’s no cruise control.”

TSO is best known for reinterpreting classical melodies with elements of hard and progressive rock in grandiose, Broadway-style production. The orchestra achieved worldwide fame for a trio of holiday-themed rock operas, which it continues to tour every November and December.

When it sets up on Memorial Auditorium’s stage Tuesday, however, TSO will present “Beethoven’s Last Night,” one of its two non-holiday rock operas.

The production tells a fictionalized account of Ludwig van Beethoven’s encounter on his deathbed with the demon Mephistopheles, who bargains with the composer for the fate of his soul.

Although “Night Castle” is TSO’s most-recent production, O’Neill said he decided a tale of a someone overcoming tremendous adversity was more timely.

“If Beethoven had just crawled into a corner and given up on life, I don’t think any human being would have judged him harshly,” O’Neill said. “But instead, he fought his way through complete deafness, maniacal mood swings, depression and mercury poisoning to write ... music that would bring joy and happiness and peace to countless billions but that he himself would never hear.”

“The first thing is to tell an amazing story, but the second thing is to leave people with hope.”


Q&A with Trans-Siberian Orchestra's Paul O'Neill


1996: “Christmas Eve and Other Stories”

1998: “The Christmas Attic”

2000: “Beethoven’s Last Night”

2004: “The Lost Christmas Eve”

2009: “Night Castle”


about Casey Phillips...

Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, consumer technology, animals and news of the weird. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German from Middle Tennessee State University, where he worked as the features editor for the student newspaper, Sidelines. Casey's writing has earned numerous accolades, including first and second place ...

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