The Arts

‘Mountain’ drummer Corky Laing’s rock opera making NYC debut

Corky Laing of Greenport rehearses earlier this month at his Southold studio. (Credit: Rachel Young)
Corky Laing of Greenport rehearses earlier this month at his Southold studio. (Credit: Rachel Young)

It’s about starting a conversation.

That’s what Corky Laing, drummer for the band Mountain, said recently about “Playing God — The Rock Opera,” his heavy-metal collaboration with Finnish bioethics professors Tuija Takala and Matti Häyry.

“There’s no agenda here,” said Mr. Laing, who is 67 and lives in Greenport. “We’re just enjoying the academic part.”

The rock opera, which makes its U.S. debut Thursday at the Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College in New York City, explores topics like artificial insemination, immortality, cloning, suicide, deities, the afterlife and the concept of “savior siblings,” said Ms. Takala, an instructor at the University of Helsinki. She co-wrote the production with her husband, Mr. Häyry, who teaches philosophy at the Aalto University School of Business in Helsinki and is a founding member of the International Association of Bioethics. The show, which is directed by Kate Muethe of East Hampton and features a predominantly international cast, has already been performed in Helsinki and Basel, Switzerland.

“These are the sort of issues people are increasingly coming across in their own lives,” said Ms. Takala, who said she and Mr. Häyry began writing the opera “after a couple bottles of red wine” in 2010. Its themes about genetic engineering are explored in the form of a narrative set in the fictional town of Happyville.

“Babies are routinely tested for certain genetic conditions,” Ms. Takala continued. “The commercial genetic companies are pushing more and more tests on people.”

That’s not to say these concepts are good or bad, she said.

“We’re just saying stop for a second and think, because you might actually have to make decisions about these things in your life,” Ms. Takala said.

During a rehearsal break with the cast at his Southold studio Sunday afternoon, Mr. Laing admitted the public might have trouble understanding “Playing God.”

“It’s pretty deep and we have been told by many people, you know, ‘I don’t know if anybody’s going to get this,’ı” he said with a slight chuckle before taking a puff from a Cuban cigar.

“This is something worth discussing but it is kind of difficult,” Mr. Häyry added.

Perhaps, then, it might be helpful to put “Playing God” in the context of recent events, such as when singer Elton John called for a boycott of Dolce & Gabbana last month after the Italian designers referred to children conceived through in-vitro fertilization as “synthetic.” (Mr. John’s two children were conceived through IVF.)

“How dare you … ’ ” Mr. John posted on Twitter last month. “Your archaic thinking is out of line.”

“I mean, that’s weird,” Mr. Laing said of the incident. “It’s becoming, like, a contemporary vibe in a commercial way. Of course it’s controversial. And right or wrong, “Playing God” doesn’t tell you.”

Mr. Laing might be better known as the mind behind Mountain’s 1973 megahit “Mississippi Queen,” but he said he became intrigued by the concepts explored in Ms. Takala and Mr. Häyry’s production when he met the couple after performing with Mountain at a Helsinki concert. He then quickly agreed to help write the music and lyrics for “Playing God.”

“Personally, it was an honor to do this kind of repertoire because I had a chance to write and not really do anything but communicate the story,” said Mr. Laing, who plays “Luke” in the show and also plays drums in it. “The opera has been a blessing. It’s a real gift.”

Ms. Takala said she hopes the 1970s-style rock music featured in “Playing God” reaches people on a “different level” than a play would.

“It allows you to feel more,” she said. “Again, these questions are complicated and we don’t want to give answers. If you’re doing a play, it’s more about words. And if you’re using words you’re directing people.

“So we’re hoping the music allows people to reach levels within themselves,” she continued. “You don’t have to verbalize everything.”


“Playing God — The Rock Opera” takes place Thursday, April 23, at 7 p.m. at the Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College, 695 Park Ave., New York City. (Entrance at 68th Street between Lexington and Park avenues). Doors open at 6:30 p.m. and admission is complimentary with an RSVP to To learn more, visit

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