For the past five years or so, fans of Trans-Siberian Orchestra have been hearing about the impending arrival of the rock band/symphony's newest work, "Night Castle." They've even been teased on the past couple of holiday tours as TSO has played a few of the songs that were to be featured on the CD.
Finally, last week, just as Trans-Siberian Orchestra began this year's edition of its extensive holiday tour — which includes Wichita on Monday — the long-awaited "Night Castle" arrived in stores. And it appears that the group's founder and chief songwriter, Paul O'Neill, was determined to make it worth the wait — on a couple of different fronts.
On a musical level, "Night Castle" has grown from rather modest beginnings into a work of epic proportions.
"It was supposed to be out in July 2005, and obviously we slightly missed that date," O'Neill joked during a recent interview. "'Night Castle' was originally going to be 10 songs and our first regular album."
Jon Oliva, TSO's songwriting collaborator and singer for the progressive rock group Savatage, convinced O'Neill that fans expected more — they expected stories.
"So it kind of spun out of control," O'Neill said. "We were going to do six songs rock opera, six songs regular album. Then it kind of snowballed, and by the end it was way over two hours."
In size and scope, O'Neill and his songwriting collaborators, Oliva and Robert Kinkel, have outdone themselves. "Night Castle" is the first double CD by Trans-Siberian Orchestra. It features 26 songs, 21 of which are the "Night Castle" rock opera. The CD comes with a 68-page booklet that includes lyrics, the story on which the rock opera is based and illustrations by Greg Hildebrandt (of "The Lord of the Rings" fame).
The music is as wide-ranging and epic as a 26-song work would suggest, ranging from the edgy rock of "Sparks" to the classically tinged rock of "Toccata-Carpimus Noctem" and "Moonlight and Madness." In other words, it embodies the blend of progressive hard rock and classical that has always been the TSO signature.
O'Neill also negotiated a low retail price for "Night Castle," which should be another nice reward for those that have been waiting for the CD to arrive. The CD package will be available for $10.99, while a download will be $7.99.
It shouldn't surprise anyone who has followed Trans-Siberian Orchestra that "Night Castle" turned into such a massive work. Everything O'Neill touches with TSO tends to grow into something on a grand scale.
"Night Castle" follows a tradition established by TSO's trilogy of Christmas rock operas — 1996's "Christmas Eve and Other Stories," 1998's "The Christmas Attic" and 2004's "The Lost Christmas Eve" — as well as the 2000 non-holiday rock opera, "Beethoven's Last Night." They also are packed with songs and accompanied by elaborate packaging.
And then, of course, there is the TSO live show, which O'Neill describes as being like Pink Floyd on massive steroids.
Two separate editions of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra crisscross the country every holiday season — the only way to accommodate the 80-plus cities on the schedule over the two-month period of the tour. Each edition of TSO includes a full orchestra and rock band and multiple vocalists, which allows the group to replicate the complex music on the albums.
The live show has come to encompass a main stage in the front of arenas and a second stage at the back, the largest lighting rig of any touring act (it now spans the length of arenas) and an array of special effects — lasers, smoke, pyrotechnics and more — that make a TSO performance as dazzling visually as it is ambitious on a musical level.
This year's performance will combine the familiar with the new. As with the past several years, the first half of the performance will feature the first of TSO's three holiday rock operas, "Christmas Eve and Other Stories." The second half of the show is a full-on progressive rock concert, with a number of "Night Castle" songs making their live debut.
If you go
Where: Kansas Coliseum, 85th North off I-135
When: 7:30 p.m. Monday
How much: Tickets $39.50-$59.50, available at Select-A-Seat outlets and the Coliseum. Charge by phone, 316-660-1000.