25-07-2012 @ 18:55
“I’m moving into opera now. Forget rock and roll”. Freddie Mercury. 1987.
25 years after the original release of the lead single, Queen singer Freddie Mercury’s most self-defining and personal work, his ‘Barcelona’ album recorded in collaboration with Spanish operatic soprano Montserrat Caballé, is to have a special re-release in an entirely newly orchestrated re-working. The special anniversary version of the album ‘Barcelona – The Special Edition’ is released September 3, coming around what would have been the singer’s 66th birthday (sept 5th). The original Barcelona album, named after the Spanish city who would host the Olympics in 1992 and for which Mercury had been asked to write the theme song, was to become the final solo work Mercury would complete.
The title was also a tribute to the home city of his beloved recording partner Montserrat Caballé with whom Freddie was captivated and had planned to perform the title song with at the opening of the 1992 Olympics opening ceremony. Sadly Mercury passed away eight months before this could happen. But the album gave Mercury a million selling album and posthumously a chart topping single when the song Barcelona was chosen by BBC TV as its title music to its coverage of the Olympics. One of the most audacious, and groundbreaking musical collaborations of the 80’s, ‘Barcelona’ was for Freddie the embodiment of his long held fantasy of combining rock and opera and realizing his dream of collaborating with the woman of whom he said after first seeing her performing at London’s Royal Opera House in 1981, ‘I have now heard the best voice in the world’. Freddie had gone to the Opera House to see Luciano Pavarotti in Verdi’s ‘Un ballo in maschera’. Freddie had heard him on record but never seen him live. However, as impressive as Pavarotti clearly was, it was the mezzo soprano who blew Freddie away.
Beach arranged a first meeting, at the Ritz hotel in Barcelona. Freddie took with him pianist / arranger, Mike Moran, together with a demo recording they had prepared for Montserrat entitled “Exercises in Free Love” which Freddie had sung in falsetto imitating her voice. Freddie’s team had arranged for a massive PA system to be installed in the garden at the Ritz where they met and Freddie played his demo to Montserrat the moment she arrived. “Could I sing it next Sunday at my recital at Covent Garden?” Montserrat asked on hearing it. They rehearsed it then and there and the album Barcelona was born.
Nicely completing the circle between that first encounter between Freddie and Montserrat, this new edition brings to the album for the first time as an extra track Freddie’s original vocal performance of ‘Exercises in Free Love’ which Montserrat heard in the garden of the Ritz and formed the seed of their collaboration. The ‘Barcelona’ Special Edition album will be at the centre of a new groundswell of interest in the work of the late singer who died in November 1991 and in whose memory his birthday is now marked each year with the HIV AIDS fundraising day, ‘Freddie For A Day’.
The re-created Barcelona album is being hailed as the version Mercury would have wanted to make at the time had he felt able to work with a full symphony orchestra. Mercury recorded his original album almost entirely on keyboards. This 2012 special edition replaces Mercury and co-writer and producer Mike Moran’s synthesized arrangements with a full symphonic orchestral score performed by the eighty piece FILMharmonic Orchestra, Prague, one of the most sought after recording orchestras in Central Europe, featuring leading members from Czech foremost orchestras (Czech Philharmonic, Prague Symphony).
Called on to transcribe and re-orchestrate the Mercury and Montserrat Caballé tracks which featured on the original album was arranger and music director Stuart Morley whose connection with Queen and Mercury lie in his MD role of the band’s hit musical We Will Rock You. Morley is at the heart of this new special edition of the album; alongside Queen sound engineer Kris Fredriksson, Morley is also its producer. Morley set about creating a new score by ‘basically listening to the album over and over in short sections and noting down the harmonic structure, lead orchestral lines and instrumental voicings along with the vocal lines. I then proceeded to expand into making a full orchestral score (with a 2B pencil, ruler and erases –the old fashioned way) working at the piano and constantly referring back to the original recordings to make sure the work I was doing remained faithful to Freddie and Mike Moran’s original intentions.” Morley also cites as important references along the way: “Rimsky Korsakov's treatise on orchestration as well as various orchestral scores including Tchaikovsky's 4th symphony, Scheherzade and Dubussy's La Mer. It was important to me,” he says, “that the re-orchestration was constructed and voiced in an authentic classical style whilst remaining faithful to the sound world of the original album.”
After months at the pencil and eraser, Morley arrived at the first day of recording in Prague. “I remember feeling a mixture of nerves and excitement when I made the short walk from the hotel to the studio. Hearing just over 80 people tune up before striking the first notes when the conductor gives their first downbeat is always slightly nerve racking for an arranger, but these feeling were amplified ten-fold because of my knowledge, respect and admiration of the original album and its creators. “I'll never forget the wave of emotion that hit me later on that day when I was handed the headphones while we were recording one of the tutti sections from ‘The Fallen Priest’ (which was incidentally the biggest and most challenging orchestration to complete) and I felt the sheer power of the orchestra giving it their all, with Freddie and Montserrat soaring over the top of it. That was the moment I knew that we were a part of something really special.”
In addition to the orchestral score performed by the Prague FILMharmonic Orchestra, other live instruments have been added for the first time. Naoko Kikuchi, one of the few koto players in the western world, flew especially to London to add the ancient oriental instrument to ‘La Japonaise’. Rufus Taylor, Queen band member Roger Taylor’s son, has replaced the drum machines on ‘The Golden Boy’ and ‘How Can Go On’ with live percussion. The latter song also boasts a new violin solo from classical violinist David Garrett joining Queen’s John Deacon’s original bass part.
‘Barcelona - The Special Edition’ is finally the album it should have been. The world will undoubtedly rediscover and fall in love with it all over again. The only downside is that the visionary behind this masterpiece is sadly not around to hear it too.
The album will be available in CD & Deluxe CD and Digital formats to include bonus audio and DVD extras.
‘Barcelona- The Special Edition’ album release is accompanied by a brand new TV/DVD documentary ‘The Great Pretender’ (via Eagle Rock) focusing on Freddie’s solo career and life outside Queen produced and directed by Rhys Thomas. The documentary features never-before-seen footage of Freddie, including hilarious and emotional interviews re-discovered in the Queen archives for the first time recently. ‘The Great Pretender’ is released on DVD & Blu-ray on September 24.
The illustrated book ‘Freddie Mercury The Great Pretender: A Life In Pictures’ (Goodman) containing captivating shots of Freddie and revealing the many sides of his colourful life is published September 5. The book package also includes additional CD of a rare interview by Mary Turner in which Freddie candidly discusses his life of stardom.