“I’m moving into opera now. Forget rock and roll.” With those words, Queen frontman Freddie Mercury moved in on what may be the most grandiose phase in a long career full of theatrics. In 1987, with Queen not yet knowing they would have played their final live show one year before, the band’s whimsical frontman ventured into uncharted waters with Barcelona, an operatic rock album featuring a talented soprano whose voice he idolized, and put one of the final great flourishes on a career (and a life) carried out with brilliant extravagance.
Now, 25 years after the release of the “Barcelona” single, 20 years after its charting and for what would have been the singer’s 66th birthday, Barcelona comes back in a big way, reissued and reimagined with a brand new orchestration and three discs of extra content in September.
“I have now heard the best voice in the world,” Mercury told friends in 1981 after attending a performance of Giuseppe Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera at the Royal Opera House in London. But the Queen singer was not speaking of star Luciano Pavarotti, but mezzo-soprano female lead Caballé. After some years, the duo arranged to meet; Mercury bought with him a demo co-written with arranger Mike Moran that the diva fell in love with immediately.
When approached to create a song for the 1992 Olympic Games held in the Spanish city Barcelona – Monsterrat’s birthplace – it was obvious with whom Mercury would collaborate. The pair worked separately on songs for a full album (all of which were primarily written by Mercury and Moran, with some input from Caballé and lyricist Tim Rice), with Freddie laying down falsetto guide vocals for Montserrat to sing.
The album was a respectable success upon release in 1988, with the title track climbing to No. 8. Mercury returned to Queen for The Miracle (1989) and Innuendo (1991), hiding the terrible news of his declining health due to AIDS until the day before his death at the end of 1991. While many remember the reascension of “Bohemian Rhapsody” to the U.K. pop charts that holiday, “Barcelona” made a stunning return when reissued to commemorate that stirring Olympic ceremony, in which Montserrat took the stage herself to duet with Freddie’s ethereal voice during the opening exercises.
Now, Barcelona‘s coming back in a big way, and you can find out how after the jump.
As ambitious as the final album was, it was slightly hindered by time constraints: Mercury and Moran’s arrangements were almost entirely synthesized, with only some strings accompanying the duo on “Barcelona” and a bass line from Queen’s John Deacon on “How Can I Go On.” For this reissue, however, an entirely new backing track has been created. The 80-piece Prague FILMharmonic Orchestra play new arrangements by Stuart Morley, musical director for the Queen musical We Will Rock You. (Morley co-produced the new edition with Kris Fredrikson, an engineer on several Queen projects.) Other instrumental contributions come courtesy of violinist David Garrett and percussionist Rufus Taylor, son of Queen drummer Roger.
The new coat of musical paint will be available on its own on CD and vinyl, and will also feature as part of a super-deluxe four-disc set that features the newly re-orchestrated disc, a bonus disc of demos (including the B-side version of “Exercises in Free Love” that Freddie first played Montserrat), a DVD of old and new video content and the album in an instrumental version. All versions street September 3, and can be ordered on Amazon U.K. below.
Freddie Mercury and Montserrat Caballé, Barcelona: The Special Edition (Island (U.K.), 2012 – CD/vinyl/3 CD + 1 DVD deluxe edition)
Disc 1: New orchestrated album (originally released as Polydor POLH 44 (U.K.), 1988)
- La Japonaise
- The Fallen Priest
- The Golden Boy
- Guide Me Home
- How Can I Go On
- Exercises in Free Love
- Overture Piccante
- How Can I Go On (feat. David Garrett) (bonus track)
Disc 2: Rarities and Session Outtakes
- Exercises in Free Love (1987 Version) (B-side to “Barcelona” – Polydor 887 075-7 (U.K.), 1987)
- Barcelona (Early Version: Freddie’s Demo Vocal)
- La Japonaise (Early Version: Freddie’s Demo Vocal)
- Rachmaninov’s Revenge (The Fallen Priest) (Later Version: Freddie’s Demo Vocal)
- Ensueno (Monsterrat’s Live Takes)
- The Golden Boy (Early Version: Freddie’s Demo Vocal)
- Guide Me Home/How Can I Go On (Alternative Versions)
- How Can I Go On (Alternative Piano Version)
Disc 3: DVD
- Barcelona (Ku Club Ibiza Performance)
- La Nit Barcelona Performance: Barcelona/How Can I Go On/The Golden Boy
- Barcelona (promo video)
- Barcelona: The Special Edition EPK
- Barcelona (2012 Edit by Rhys Thomas)
Disc 4: Instrumental version of album (track list identical to Disc 1)