The Guardian, 06-07-2015
Having just turned 70, Pete Townshend has evidently been musing on his musical legacy. His current pet project is to create definitive orchestral scores of all of his major works, including Quadrophenia, the sprawling 1973 double-album rock opera by the Who that was to spawn both a feature film and a theatre production.
Townshend asked his partner, the composer and arranger Rachel Fuller, to compose the score, and the venture quickly snowballed. Released last month, Classic Quadrophenia features the 90-piece Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and the 80 members of the London Oriana Choir, as does tonight’s performance.
The album sold enough copies to top the official classical chart many times over but was barred on the grounds that the material is based on rock music. A miffed Townshend leapt on to Twitter, condemning the chart body and the “classical elite” for their “musical snobbery” and delivering an admirably succinct response: “Fuck ’em.”
That rejection is true to the spirit of Quadrophenia and Townshend’s tale of Jimmy the Mod, an angry, angst-ridden early 1960s youth hooked on amphetamine-fuelled fights on Brighton beach, yet bereft of identity and purpose. However, this production is not. There is simply too vast a disconnect between the John Osborne-style narrative of working-class alienation and rebellion, and this plush, lavish performance.
With Roger Daltrey not involved this time around, Jimmy is voiced by powerhouse opera singer Alfie Boe. He wields a ferocious, all-obliterating tenor, yet utterly lacks the raw edge and brittle vulnerability that the role needs, crooning outsider anthems like Cut My Hair and 5:15 like a man who has never had a scintilla of self-doubt in his life.
Townshend is a low-key presence, although he receives a standing ovation for sloping on stage to duet on The Punk and the Godfather. Yet Phil Daniels’s estuary vowels hit the spot as Jimmy’s world-weary father, and Billy Idol has the requisite swagger to play the arch mod scenester brought low by harsh reality, Ace Face.
Townshend has always been a master craftsman, so his songs are able to carry the weight of instrumentation, and Fuller’s arrangements are sensitive and loyal to the original music throughout. They prove that it is possible to turn Quadrophenia into a classical work: whether it is necessary, or even desirable, is another matter entirely.