Nikolo Kotzev's Nostradamus

Nikolo Kotzev

Steamhammer / SPV Records, 2001

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


There are three unwritten rules about rock musicals which I believe to be absolutely true.

First, pulling off a successful rock musical is a miracle in and of itself. Take the Broadway production of Tommy for an example of how it can be done successfully.

Second, pulling off a rock musical which will probably never be staged is near impossible. I don't know of anyone trying to stage Thing-Fish from Frank Zappa, but this one is a textbook example of how quickly things can go wrong.

Third, pulling off a rock musical about a deep subject matter which will probably never be staged - well, I once thought this was about as likely as Pat Robertson and Harvey Fierstein dancing cheek-to-cheek. But leave it to Finnish musician Nikolo Kotzev to take a Don Quixote-like charge at such a concept - namely, a progressive-rock spectacle based on the life of Nostradamus.

Does Nikolo Kotzev's Nostradamus succeed? Well, that depends on your definition of "success," doesn't it?

Let's first start with the strengths of this production. Musically, Kotzev builds a structure that should be able to withstand any criticism. The music is fresh and lively, even keeping a medieval flavor which the subject matter absoutely requires. By utilizing a 35-piece orchestra for the body of these 21 songs, Kotzev creates an atmosphere that makes the listener almost feel like they're looking in at the life and trials of one Michel de Nostredame. It takes a skilled musician and songwriter to pull such a feat off, and Kotzev does it well.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Second, the cast of singers he brings to the table is well thought out. Ranging form the world of prog-rock (Joe Lynn Turner, Glenn Hughes, Doogie White) to some surprising selections from the pop-rock world (Alannah Myles, Sass Jordan), each singer seems to be well matched to the character they play in this soundtrack. If I had one minor complaint, though, I'd have miked the choir up a bit more; often, some of the lines they sing are buried in the rich musical background.

Now, the complaints. The first, which is a minor one, is that one almost has to have the liner notes with them as they listen to this set, just so they can understand exactly what is going on in the plot. Of course, anyone who has done any reading about Nostradamus (other than a magazine or encyclopedia article) will have an easier time with the way Kotzev uncovers the action.

Story-wise, it sometimes feels like Kotzev glosses over certain portions of Nostradamus's life in order that significant time can be spent on predictions for World Wars II and III, as well as the end of the world. Possibly, had other prophecies which have allegedly come true been addressed (other than the center of the plot - his prediction of Henry II's death), it might have seemed like a more balanced approach. Instead, at times it almost feels like the development of the story becomes bogged down by these three major predictions. Possibly, had Kotzev combined them into one work, this would have been more successful.

In fact, when the plot gets tied down, the interest level in the whole production sags a bit. It's not that Kotzev shouldn't have touched on these - and I'll admit a strong case could be made for the attention Kotzev gives them should this ever be staged, since these could make some great theater - but that it's too easy for the listener to get overwhelmed by these, and subsequently find themselves drifting away from the story and music.

One doesn't spend four years working on something which doesn't have potential - and Nikolo Kotzev's Nostradamus does indeed have great potential. I'm willing to bet that if this ever is staged, my complaints about overreliance on certain predictions will be reduced to dust. Until then, though, all we have to work with is the soundtrack to a dream... which returns us to the original question. Did Kotzev succeed with this work? The answer is yes, though it's not as strong a "yes" as I'd like to give it. (Then again, had you asked me prior to this disc if a to-be-staged musical based on Nostradamus would succeed, I'd have most likely said "no" without giving it a second thought.)

Rating: B-

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© 2002 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Steamhammer / SPV Records, and is used for informational purposes only.