Leonardo – The Absolute Man

Quite an impressive lineup, don’t you think? The result is equally impressive. A rock opera on the genius that was Leonardo da Vinci.

This album has been in the works for years, originating as the ultimate artistic dream of Magna Carta label head Peter Morticelli, who then placed the intellectual blueprints in the hands of Trent Gardner. Gardner wrote both the music and the lyrics for the whole project.

“Once the idea got off the ground, I committed to doing some research and reading and once I got into the story I started to realize that there was a lot more there than I realized,” says Gardner. According to him, “the trained scholars who have done the most research (…) Don’t know who this guy is.”

Gardner’s Leonardo is about the man, the artist, rather than the scientist. And he is presented in a very different light through this project.

For instance, I’d always heard that Leonardo had never publicly been seen with a woman, yet that there was nothing to indicate he could have been gay. Here, the subject of the Mona Lisa is described as his lover who met an untimely death. One that he never really got over.

His opposition to building weapons of war is also very much exposed. That he built them or else… Completely at odds with the history books, meet Leonardo the true “Renaissance Man”, rather than just a historical figure.

Let’s hope this album gets some airplay. There are many songs here that could be played on the radio. First Commission being a prime example. A beautiful duet between the guy who sang Dust in the Wind and Michelle Young. She is one of the most pleasant surprises on this album. I didn’t know her before and have been quite happy to discover such a fantastic voice. According to Gardner she “has the most stunning female voice I’ve ever heard”. But we’ll be talking more about her in the near future.

Musically, the background was superbly laid. Gardner talks about the drums: “When I initially came up with these parts, they were so specific and so complex, that I programmed a bunch of drum machine stuff as pre-production work that I could show a drummer, i.e. what the different feels were. And I spent about three months just doing that, which I took to Jeremy (Colson), and said ‘Jeremy, here’s what I’m looking for. I just need you to kind of embellish. This guy did something that nobody I’ve ever worked with before has done. He actually learned, note for note, the parts I programmed, and then on top of that, embellished. He came into Steve Smith’s studio and we witnessed him blow through this thing, most of tunes, virtually first take, with minimal overdubs. I’ve never seen that happen in the studio. It was just amazing to watch.”

It was mixed by Rush producer, Terry Brown. Where Brown usually takes only a few days to mix an album, it took him three months to mix this one. Brown even had to upgrade his equipment!

A superb collection of voices. The chorus sections are impressive when all are singing together. The music goes into several directions. It even goes into metal mood at times, while going into pop at others. Unfortunately, only two women singing on the album, that couldn’t be helped because of the history of the man, but what voices! I would have liked to have heard more from both Michelle Young and Lisa Bouchelle. Other than that, a truly flawless opera which would be much more interesting to see than Phantom of the Opera or Cats. When will we see the stage version?

The cast: Leonardo da Vinci James Labrie (Dream Theater) Ser Peiro da Vinci Davey Pattison (Gamma) Caterina Michelle Young (solo) Lorenzo de Medici Josh Pincus (Magellan) Citizens Chorus Mona Lisa Lisa Bouchelle (October, Mastermind) Melzi Mike Baker (Shadow Gallery) Verrocchio Trent Gardner (Magellan) Art Students Chorus Salai Robert Berry (3) Court Chorus Calco Steve Walsh (Kansas) Storza Chris Shryack (Under the Sun) Francis I Bret Douglas (Cairo) The musicians: Trent Gardner Keyboards and trombone Wayne Gardner Guitar Jeremy Colson Drums Patrick Reyes Guitar Steve Reyes Bass Additional musicians: Joe Franco Drums and orchestral percussion Luis Maldonado Guitar and bass