It took Queen three weeks to record one of the greatest rock songs of all time.
Most of what the band wrote was in the studio, guitarist Brian May told the BBC, but the soaring, indelible suite by Freddie Mercury that veers from ballad to opera to full-on, thundering rock “was all in Freddie’s mind” before Queen even began rehearsing “Bohemian Rhapsody,” May said. Indeed, Mercury had been working on “Rhapsody” in his own mind for years. He called it “The Cowboy Song,” perhaps for one of its most famous lines: “Mama, just killed a man.”
Telluride is a place where cowboys not only once lived — Butch Cassidy robbed his first bank on Colorado Avenue — they continue to reside around here. The late Freddie Mercury’s spirit lingers, as well: Queen’s concerts were some of Rhonda Muckerman’s most indelible musical memories. The artistic director of the Telluride Choral Society, who grew up outside New York City, used to take the bus in with her friends to watch the band rock Madison Square Garden in the 1970s. She owned “A Night at the Opera,” the blockbuster album where “Bohemian Rhapsody” first appeared. So when society board member Sandy McLaughlin — a fellow Queen fan — wondered, “Wouldn’t it be great if we could perform ‘Bohemian Rhapsody,’” Muckerman got cracking.
Though many pop hits are rearranged for a chorus to be able to sing them, “not every choral arrangement is good,” Muckerman noted. This one was. And it got Muckerman thinking: What if we built a concert around it, called A Night at the Opera? And what if we were lucky enough to be able to set it at the Sheridan Opera House?
The result is a one-time-only event Sunday: A night at a real-life opera house in a Western town, which will culminate in a performance of Mercury’s cowboy song. But the evening will showcase more than “Bohemian Rhapsody” (for which Brian May, Roger Taylor and Freddie Mercury reportedly sang their vocal parts 10 to 12 hours every day in the three-week period that the song was recorded).
The 15-piece program, a fundraiser for the nonprofit, which will be performed by Muckerman’s adult singers, will also veer (appropriately, given the venue) into opera, with selections by Puccini and Mozart, the movies and Broadway (songs from “Les Miserables,” “Wicked,” “Rent” and “Chicago”).
There will even be a performance of a poignant, rarely heard duet from “The Sound of Music,” “Something Good,” a chance for Muckerman (an alto) to perform alongside her husband (who sings bass).
Muckerman rarely sings with her husband in public, which will make this performance doubly unusual.
The evening is a fundraiser for the nonprofit choral society, which guarantees that everyone who wants to perform and learn from Muckerman gets a chance. It’s a seated fundraiser, she emphasized.
“A lot of people have been trying to purchase tickets on the Sheridan Opera House’s website,” but have become confused by the phrase “standing room only” and the inability to select seats, she said. “We’re bringing in at least 100 chairs for downstairs, and the balcony is seating.” For that matter, you can even book a table — a place for the glass of wine you’ll also be able to purchase, or a couple of appetizers (neither of which are available at a concert at Christ Church, the choral society’s traditional venues for its WinterSing and SpringSing concerts). Just as at Christ Church, “The acoustics at the Sheridan are really good,” Muckerman said, which is always the most important consideration. “This space suited us because there’s room for appetizers and drinks in the SHOW bar, for people to wander around and look at the numerous items for silent auction, and because ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ requires both an electric guitar and a set of drums” — and there is room for both, as well as the choral society’s piano and accompanist, Susan Ensor, on the Sheridan’s stage.
Food will be supplied by La Cocina de Luz, The Butcher & the Baker, Rustico, The Village Table, Floradora, Smuggler’s Brewpub, Oak, Baked In Telluride, Esperanza’s and Clark’s Market. Dapper local Ashley Boling will be both master-of-ceremonies and auctioneer. “There are 25 or 30 really lovely silent-auction items” ranging from a day at various spas to a night at Franz Klammer Lodge, “ski passes, Bluegrass passes, even a birding tour,” Muckerman said. Her favorite is the single live-auction item: a chance to put the famous punctuation mark on “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
“Whoever wins will get to hold the big mallet on-stage,” Muckerman said. “I will give the cue, and that person will bang the gong.”
The reverberation signals the last moment of the song, and the end the concert.
“A Night at the Opera,” solo and group performances at a seated concert by the Telluride Choral Society, is Sunday at the Sheridan Opera House. The Sheridan’s doors open at 5:30 p.m., and the show begins at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are available at sheridanoperahouse.com or at the door. To learn more about the Telluride Choral Society or to make a donation, visit telluridechoralsociety.org.