Quebec composer tackles Pink Floyd opera brick by brick

Montrealer Julien Bilodeau was a fan of progressive rock before he was a classical composer.

He even put out a progressive-rock album at 18 years old, featuring three tracks running a total of 47 minutes.

So when he was invited to take on his first opera project, transposing the classic 1979 concept album, The Wall, he jumped at the opportunity.

"The album was in the collection of my father," he told CBC's All in a Weekend. "In my youth, I was a big fan of Pink Floyd and then I got away from that kind of music to concentrate on classical."

The story follows Pink, a character whose life begins with the loss of his father during WWII and continues with abuse from his schoolteachers, an overprotective mother and the breakdown of his marriage.

An idea sparked in Montreal

Pink Floyd's bassist and vocalist Roger Waters created The Wall following the 1977 In the Flesh Tour, which brought the band to Montreal's Olympic Stadium.

As Bilodeau explains, during the last song of the set Waters became aggressive and spat in the face of an unruly fan. Later a small riot erupted at the front of the stage as audience members refused to let the concert come to an end.

"After that show, he felt very, very remorseful," said Bilodeau. "Now I'm feeling isolated. I feel they don't understand. Even if there are big numbers in my shows, I feel alone. So he had this idea, next time I'm doing a show, I'm going to build a wall, between them and me."

A 'magical moment' with Waters

Bilodeau said when he first met with Waters about the opera project, he was sceptical, but agreed to listen.

He had completed a solo tour of The Wall several years before in 2012 and Bilodeau felt he was "in a point in his life where he was ready to leave his baby."

Bilodeau describes a "magical moment" where he played the first selection of music for Waters in New York.

"Something happened, I cannot express. He turned around to me and said, 'Bravo. You got it.'"

In that moment, Bilodeau recalls the feeling of elation.

"I feel so light. I could run Manhattan up and down like five times."

The world premiere of Opéra de Montréal's Another Brick in the Wall took place Saturday night at Salle Wilfrid Pelletier. It runs until March 27.