BWW Interview: Composer Elliot Goldenthal Talks A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM
Elliot Goldenthal has an impressive stage biography; has created music for the stage, orchestra, ballet, opera, and the big screen. His most recent work can be found in the Julie Taymor directed production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, which opened November 2 at the Polonsky Shakespeare Center in Brooklyn. I had the opportunity to speak with is an Academy Award and Golden Globe winning composer and here's what he had to say about Midsummer, Julie Taymor, and his upcoming work.
You've done Shakespeare before with works like Titus and The Tempest-
Well more than that, I've done Titus and The Tempest. This year I had a big show 4,000 people a night, coming to my ballet, Othello, in Chicago, played by the Joffrey Ballet. And there's a ballet that was performed at Metropolitan Opera House in New York, as well as California, Paris, etc. And my Othello Symphony album is coming out this winter. So there's a lot of activity with Shakespeare this year. So Titus, Tempest, Midsummer, and Othello.
Is composing for Shakespeare different than composing for other productions?
Yes, for two reasons: Shakespeare is in meter, so therefore it has, depending on the actors, has a rhythm built in. So you're dealing with basically a genius hip-hop artist in the Seventeenth Century in the late Sixteenth Century. And the language is so exquisite, you don't want to mask it in any way. So other than the ballet, which is done completely to a narrative, three-act-ballet situation, when I write for the stage or the screen, I'm very careful to support the performance and not to pull any focus away from the power of the word and the performances of the artists.
There's something about the dreamy, fantasy landscape of A Midsummer Night's Dream that calls out to be put to music. Did you have that reaction when first reading the play?
Yeah, well, it has various highly contrasted aspects to it. There's the dreamy fairie world where Shakespeare indicated singing and other types of music, and then you have the lovers and you have the mechanicals which is, you know, more contemporary, more robust kind of, less ephemeral, mysterious world. And then you have Oberon and Titiana, which is also closer to the ephemeral world but not as delicate as the children, the fairies, or as Puck. So you have all sorts of different contrasting elements, including the Athenian Kings and the Dukes and all the marriage speeches, and that's more, you know, a reality feeling and a more civilized approach to music as apposed to mysterious.
You mentioned the differed contrasts in musical styles in the show. What or who did you draw inspiration from this production? Musical or otherwise.
Well, when it came to the mechanicals, I just thought about two things-the music from the Balkans, all the way to Greece, through Macedonia, Turkey, that sort of Eastern European sound that sounds very ancient. And I mixed it with a very circus-y, very gypsy feeling. It's contemporary yet it has ancient modes of music in it that could have been heard 2,000 years ago, in the Hellenic world. And, the other, for the fairies, I took advantage of the children's voices, and taking the text and sort of treating it in a kind of contrapuntal way, so that the words are floating all around, almost took the words and flip it up in the sky and then just falling down like snowflakes, you know. Like rain drops. They're not in the strict order, and yet you understand the intent. And uh, finally, for Oberon and Titiana, I wanted to also heighten the mysterious fairie world, almost awesome and engendering feelings of rich and dark music that they both have. And Titiana, I have an Indian flute that is very, very, very sensual. It's also very longing when she's speaking about the Indian boy that she loves so much. Those are the elements. Finally, the big dance at the end was a culmination of the, you know, sort of celebratory music that I talked about in the beginning, without the circus. Now it's sort of like the mechanical's music turned around to a country dance. One thing I tried to stay away from was Elizabethan or sort of Renaissance type music. It's often interpreted that way because it's specific to Shakespeare's time but I went back even further to the type of modes and type of scales that would play 2,000 years ago. By the Greeks, by the Macedonians, etc. And also looking at the contemporary-to Rock and Roll music and to electric guitar and drums, to things that you can relate to as a contemporary vehicle, reflecting the costume design of Constance Hoffman and the way Julie (Taymor) directed the mechanicals, as contemporary accents, you know, almost New York range of ethnic accents. So I didn't want that to sound very ancient, I wanted it to be accompanied by a guitar, rock n' roll style, but still playing those ancient, ancient modes.