'Titus' provides challenge for Oscar-nommed composer

A triumphant Roman general returns home to the sounds of a barbaric march and a choir chanting in Latin. An emperor throws a lavish party with a swing band performing. Two nasty punks play pool and conspire to the sounds of industrial rock. Two and a half hours of Shakespearean madness concludes with a stunning elegy for orchestra.

Amazingly, all of these elements are part of the same score: Elliot Goldenthal’s ambitious music for “Titus,” Broadway director Julie Taymor’s provocative and graphic adaptation of “Titus Andronicus,” with Anthony Hopkins, Jessica Lange and Alan Cumming.

“It was the most difficult project I ever had to do,” says the two-time Oscar nominee — for “Interview With the Vampire” (1994) and “Michael Collins” (1996). He views it as “the culmination of my last 10 years of scoring for film” as well as of the more than a dozen projects he has scored for Taymor, who happens to be Goldenthal’s significant other, in the New York theater.

He spent a year on the project, much of that time on location in Rome, composing two hours of very diverse music for a film that jumps around in time from ancient Rome to 20th-century Fascist Italy. “At all times, there’s a complex tapestry of contradictions,” Goldenthal says, “logical contradictions between two equally credible dramatic premises.”

Shakespeare’s text influenced his score, as did Dante Ferretti’s imaginative production design and the city itself. “The film takes place in no particular time. But when you go to Rome, you see 4,000 years of political and architectural history: In one second you’ll see a Roman temple, in another you’ll see a Fiat drive by with rap music on,” he says. Similarly, he adds, the score needed to “embrace the 20th century while also embracing the voices of our ancestors.”

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