Just a couple nights ago, Breaking Bad beat out True Detective, Mad Men, and Game of Thrones to win the Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series for the second year in a row. Breaking Bad had a great night, picking up three acting awards and a writing award as well. The glorious and gut-wrenching fifth and final season, which came to an end last September 29, was an authentic cultural phenomenon, which the pile of Emmys merely confirmed.
One relatively unexpected product of Season 5 is an actual operatic adaptation of Breaking Bad. The composer, Sung Jin Hong, also the artistic director of One World Symphony, was so inspired by the series that he wrote the entirety of “Breaking Bad—Ozymandias” in the four or so months between the end of the series and its premiere in New York on January 26, 2014. “Ozymandias” is the title of the 14th episode of Season 5, and is a reference to Percy Bysshe Shelley’s 1818 sonnet of the same name, which touches on the fleeting nature of empire.
Sung Jin Hong was urged by his sister to watch “the best show ever” (she’s certainly not alone in this judgment), and before he knew it, the show had become “an addiction.” As Sung Jin Hong says, “The eureka moment probably occurred after I explored and exhausted many possibilities. I had been sketching for almost a month and had not committed to a motif or rhythm. After a long morning run in early November in Prospect Park, I felt as if I could hear my heart beating. I immediately committed to elaborating on what has become the Heisenberg chord and his rhythmic heartbeat in my composition.”
As with the series itself, one of the more attention-getting aspects of the opera has been the character Jesse Pinkman’s propensity for using the word bitch in conversation. “Breaking Bad—Ozymandias” features a “Bitch Aria” that requires significant audience participation (see video below). The opera was performed twice on January 26 & 27, 2014, at the Church of the Holy Apostles in Chelsea in Manhattan. The two performances required the use of folding chairs to accommodate demand, and the reviews appear to have been very positive.
On this page are two snippets of songs from the opera in a format that we unfortunately cannot embed here. The first song is called “The Moment,” and was inspired by “Fly,” episode 10 of Season 3. Here are a few lines from it:
That was the moment
I should have never left home
Maybe things would have…
I was at home watching tv
Skyler and Holly were in another room
She was singing a lullaby
If I had just lived right up to that moment and not one second more
That would have been perfect
Soprano Dorothy Smith Jacobs, who played the part of Jane, Jesse’s drug-addicted friend from Season 2, said, “I think there is a need for operas to be 2014 scandalous, not 18th-century scandalous, while never ever sacrificing musical integrity.”
Perhaps emboldened by the success of “Breaking Bad—Ozymandias,” Sung Jin Hong has chosen as the inspiration for his next work another televised embodiment of pure evil: Hannibal Lecter.