Frantic At The Opera

From: Guitar World 12/94

By: Scott Brodeur

Title: "Savatage: Frantic At The Opera"

Transcribed and HTMLized by: Tracy Wrona

     "It was hell," says Criss Oliva. "Absolute living hell." Is the Savatage guitarist recollecting the 1989 San Francisco earthquake? Or is he describing the 1991 New York Mets baseball season? Neither. Oliva is just giving the lowdown on Savatage's recording of its rock opera, Streets:

     "We were in the studio for seven months, recording, mixing, fighting, screaming, yelling, bitching," he says. "But now that it's finished and on the street, we can all sit back and go, 'Man, that was great.'"

     The opera's story line revolves around a New York City drug dealer and musician named Downtown Jesus (D. T.). Over the course of the album's 16 tracks, the Florida-based Savatage take listeners on a trip through D. T.'s highs, lows and deeper lows. The music is similarly varied, moving from frantic, guitar-driven rockers like "Sammy And Tex" and "Jesus Saves," to the naked piano ballad, "A Little Too Far." Oliva, who wrote the opera with his vocalist brother Jon and producer Paul O'Neill, says he found trying to capture such a broad spectrum of emotions on guitar to be challenging.

     "I had to put a lot more thought into my solos than I normally do," he says. "And we had to show a lot of range and versatility as a band to switch tones from song to song."

     Oliva varied his tones by switching gear often, playing a variety of Charvel/Jackson guitars as well as a vintage Les Paul, an old Telecaster and a Martin acoustic. For amplification, he altered between Laneys and vintage Marshall stacks.

     "Not every band could do a rock opera," says bassist Johnny Lee Middleton. "An opera has so many moods, it's like an emotional roller coaster-with ups and downs, happy moments and sad moments. That's what made this such a challenge."