A few years ago, a friend accused me of being “an overeducated music snob”. And while I don’t usually think of myself that way because I know several professional musicians and composers, I did originally intend to major in viola performance and geek out on music theory in college . . . but happened to get a math degree instead. So, he has a point. I’m not, however, an opera geek – yet. I do enjoy the grandness of opera, and believe it’s a great venue for storytelling. But I’m by no means an expert on all things opera.
Similarly, despite not being a true comic book aficionado, I do enjoy the movies. Particularly Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins series, which is, to date, the best cinematic telling of Batman out there. I love the darkness, the grittiness, and the depth of character. It’s the darkness behind Batman that makes me think the story would make a wonderful opera.
Think about it: Opera is full of disguises and mistaken identity. Opera has its fair share of insane characters. So do comic books. So why not bring the two together in glorious union?
With that in mind, I’ve made a wish list of what I’d love to see in a Batman opera:
- The main story would have to relate to Batman’s superhero origins somehow, so make it about the trial of the man who killed Mr & Mrs Wayne. Open with the announcement that he’s finally going to trial, a decade or two after the murders, and everyone wonders how Bruce Wayne, their orphaned son, will react. His childhood friend – we’ll call her Rachel since I’m drawing inspiration from Batman Begins – gets introduced in the opening number before we move to Wayne Manor and meet Alfred, who breaks the news to Bruce. Then we get the main character’s first aria, remembering that tragic night and how it’s changed him – for better and for worse.
- Batman should be sung by a bass-baritone. The baritone register would be for the Bruce Wayne moments, and the bass for Batman. Another option is to write it for two singers – one as Bruce Wayne and one as Batman. I like this option because it allows for a duet between the two. A Batman/Bruce Wayne duet would be epic, and is a great way to bring inner conflict to life on stage.
- There needs to be a super-villain, but not the Joker. The Joker would make a great part for a tenor, similar to Loki in Wagner’s Ring Cycle, but Loki also had 4 operas and 20 hours in which to wreak chaos and have it resolved. So he’s not ideal.
- Catwoman would be a good super-villain. This could be tricky from a writing stand-point, because you’d have to work a cat burglary plot around the trial plot. But between Alfred, Commissioner Gordon, and Bruce Wayne/Batman, we have plenty of male leads. We need some sopranos/mezzos/altos for vocal variety.
- To get more color in the production design palette, include Poison Ivy. This also allows for another female voice. She would, of course, be plotting something with Catwoman.
- Let there be tragedy. It’s opera – someone has to die!
- This tragedy is what finally cements Bruce Wayne’s desire to be Batman, confirmed by his final aria after the death in Act III. So it should be someone he’s been close to since childhood . . sorry, Rachel, Alfred is a bit more critical than you are.
And there you have it. The bare bones of what a Batman opera might look like. Maybe someone at DC is paying attention and we’ll actually get one some day? See you there!