These days, if you mention The Wall, people may think you’re talking about Donald Trump’s proposed barrier separating the United States from Mexico. If you travel northward into Canada, though, The Wall means something else entirely – Pink Floyd’s 1979 album The Wall is being turned into an opera. Another Brick in the Wall: The Opera is a collaboration between Opéra de Montréal and the band’s former bassist and songwriter Roger Waters. It will premiere at the Quebec opera house on 11 March and is one of a series of events meant to help celebrate the city’s 375th anniversary.
While the opportunity to transform your rock opera into an actual opera sounds hard to pass up, that’s exactly what Waters did when he was approached by the composer Julien Bilodeau and Pierre Dufour, who at the time was the executive director of the Opéra de Montréal. “I wrote them a very polite, but very firm email back saying that my experience had been that most collaborations between popular music in general, but rock’n’roll in particular, and the symphonic orchestral form were unmitigated disasters and I thought it was a terrible idea,” said Waters.
“I got this fantastic letter back from Pierre Dufour. It was so eloquent in defense of their idea and I agreed that I would meet with them.” Dufour, Bilodeau, and the director Dominic Champagne came to New York to meet Waters, armed with preliminary set designs and operatic transformations of Pink Floyd’s hits Comfortably Numb and Another Brick in The Wall, Part 2. Waters was impressed. “We started talking and five hours later we were still talking,” he said. “After that meeting I said, ‘You know what? All right, you’ve convinced me. Let’s do it.’”
Waters joined the team, serving as librettist for the new piece, with music written by Bilodeau. The conductor Alain Trudel and Champagne will guide the Orchestre Métropolitain and Étienne Dupuis, who plays the character inspired by the rock star Pink Floyd, the fictional protagonist of the original rock opera reportedly inspired by both Waters and Pink Floyd’s original leader, Syd Barrett.
Montreal is a fitting place for the opera’s debut, as the origin story behind Pink Floyd’s The Wall started at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium in 1977, when Waters spat in the face of a fan who attempted to storm the stage. It was a move that ended the Pink Floyd concert and shocked the fan, and Waters. “It was a life-changing moment for me only insofar as my response to it made me think of how alienated I had become,” said Waters. “Suddenly a lightbulb went on and this showman in me went, ‘What about doing a rock show and building a wall between the band and the audience, as a physical expression of alienation that caused me to spit on that bloke?’”