Rock star Stewart Copeland pioneers new blend of rock and opera

Stuart Copeland. Courtesy photo

There’s rock. And then there’s opera. There are even rock operas. But for rock icon Stewart Copeland, there are musical frontiers yet to be conquered. This past week, this rock and roll superstar took to the Terrace Theatre stage to present a preview of his upcoming collaboration with the Long Beach Opera.

According to Copeland, who co-founded The Police in the late 1970’s, nothing could be more different than rock and opera. “Rock is about lighting up the room. Opera is about achieving silence in the room,” said Copeland.

As a musician, Copeland has achieved super stardom. A legendary drummer, Copeland has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame, the Classic Drummer Hall of Fame and is on the Rolling Stone list of all time greatest drummers, etc. No dispute, here.

But what fewer people understand, is that although as a drummer, he somewhat took a back seat to the legendary Sting and guitarist Andy Summers in The Police, it was Copeland’s vision that put the supergroup together. The chemistry of his vision attracted amazing band mates with incredible ability to become one of the biggest acts ever formed.

The lucky group of fans that attending the preview got a rare chance to see and hear Copeland tell a compelling story of how the band came together. Morever, they also had the opportunity to watch Copeland’s “Super 8” movies of the bands earliest days as they waited for Copeland to take the stage.

“I thought it was fascinating,” said Michael Simpson, of Seal Beach, a long time fan. Simpson, now a media executive, actually had a chance during the show to ask Copeland about an early California show that Simpson had attended as a very young man. Copeland not only remembered, but even commented on the gig.

Thinking out of the box was always Copeland’s strong suit. The son of a diplomat, Copeland spent his early years in boarding schools in places around the world.

As a young man in London, Copeland remembers traveling up to Newcastle upon Tyne, where Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner, better known as Sting, the uber famous bassist, songwriter and singer, was playing in a small local band. Copeland saw potential and invited him to London. To Sting, said Copeland, “I was a big talking American. It’s amazing how big you can talk when you got nothing.”

Sting remembered that day two years ago during a Nashville concert, telling his audience “when I got to London, I had three things in my pocket. I had a five pound note, a bag of songs and a phone number that happened to be Stewart Copeland’s.”

Copeland had it all figured out. He wanted to take advantage of the punk craze. “We (the band) would be called ‘The Police’, we would be gnarly, be hostile and play the punk circuit.”

So in 1977, a group called the The Police got a shaky start on London’s punk circuit. In the early days, the London critics called The Police “carpetbaggers,” but Copeland and the boys were undeterred.

Copeland quickly figured out that he and the guys in the band were “about four years older” than everyone else on the punk circuit, so “we were sharks among minnows.”

Struggling in the early days, The Police utilized Copeland’s punk compositions. A musically frustrated Sting tacitly played along as the group’s early guitarist just could not keep up with Sting’s incredible jazz-fusion style, still waiting to explode.

Eventually, the band discovered Andy Summers in a recording session and shortly thereafter, the The Police became a trio with Copeland, Sting and Summers. Even then, the musical magic didn’t ultimately happen until a fateful night when the band performed in Germany.

Invited to perform there by a German composer, the band was finally away from the trappings of the punk scene and its unforgiving fans.

Free to explore new frontiers during that performance, Copeland said Summers suddenly let loose with some “incredible guitar licks that were “triple scaled.” Sting fell right in with his amazing melodic precision and jazzy synergies.

But the musical epiphany was yet to come later that night. Appearing with The Police that night, said Copeland, was an American jazz singer. According to Copeland, “she was out of tune and liked it that way.” Her notes were flat and eventually, she simply walked off the stage. Just didn’t work.

After a brief, confused pause in mid-song, there was a “dead spot in the music, when our bass player (Sting) stepped up to the mike.”

At that point, says Copeland this happened and rock and roll history was made. With Sting now at the mike, “out comes that sound that we are now so familiar with. This incredible keening, wailing sound that breaks your heart and twists in and gets your sentiment soaring in the sky. (Expletive),” he exclaimed, “we’re going to be famous and that’s how it all began!”

What followed, of course, was a nine-year, mind-blowing career for Copeland, Sting and Summers.

The Police has since sold 75 million records, playing the world’s biggest arenas and as the world knows now, gone on to rock and roll superstardom. Since then, Copeland has been busy. Using his unique originality and crisp musical ability, he has managed to chart his own, impressive path.

Copeland was educated in music and is the son of a jazz musician. Having traveled the world, he’s studied African beats as well as reggae, all of which can be found somewhere within the unique “Police” sound.

Since the band’s breakup, he’s worked with Francis Ford Coppola on music scores, been nominated for a Golden Globe Award, created an album of worldwide rhythms and written four operas, all of which have been produced. This past week, as a guest of the Long Beach Opera, he gave the lucky attendees a preview of his latest, upcoming opera entitled “The Invention of Morel.”

At an age when many retire, Copeland could not be more enthused. After performing a few selections on drums, Copeland simply sat for an hour to converse with the audience and Long Beach Opera Artistic Director Andreas Mitisek.

“Stewart Copeland after The Police has constantly been re-inventing himself as an in-demand composer for both film and opera,” said Mitisek.

For sure, based on his quick wit and wicked sense of perception, Copeland is still razor sharp. He said “Morel” is “a time bending sci-fi story that redefines the limits of human connection and the power of love.”

After a preview, the Chicago Tribune calls it “a brilliant piece of musical surrealism.”

One could almost sense how much Copeland enjoyed jumping from behind the drums to front man as he led a steller group of performers in a preview of the upcoming opera.

The musicians included Marlon Martinez on string base, Neda St. Clair on piano, and Copeland himself half sung and half narrated parts that alsao included Jamie Chamberlin, who plays Faustine in “Morel” and Nathan Granner, who plays the lead role.

Copeland was in a heaven of his own while the leading renditions of compositions he wrote for the upcoming play, which the Long Beach Opera plans to stage later this year.

Chamberlin, said Copeland, hits a high note that only she can uniquely reach while Granner ripped an impressive pair of songs as his operatic voice filled the hall. Granner’s tenor was so strong that it seemingly made the use of a microphone almost unnecessary.

According to Copeland, “for a composer, opera is the ultimate. Writing pop songs is fun. You can stretch them into a concept album, but you’re basically limited to guitar, bass and drums. I’ve done a lot of film music, which lets you play with the orchestra, but finally the director is in the driver’s seat. In opera, the composer is God. And I like playing God.”

It’s been an interesting musical journey for Stewart Copeland, but surely he believes there are musical frontiers for which current compositions are only the beginning.

For more information about the Long Beach Opera or Copeland’s upcoming production, readers can call 562-470 SING (7464) or visit

Rock star Stewart Copeland pioneers new blend of rock and opera