More than a decade after bringing Shakespeare’s “Titus Andronicus” to the screen, director Julie Taymor and composer Elliot Goldenthal — partners in life and work — have reunited for “The Tempest.”
“Music is very important to Shakespeare in this play,” Taymor says. “It’s a magical island set in no time, all time and the time in which Shakespeare wrote it. And yet the music must be very spare because you don’t want to step on the language.”
So Goldenthal dispensed with the orchestral sound he’d cultivated for “Titus,” opting instead for amplified guitar and “homemade samples” to convey character and mood — except in the case of the monster Caliban (Djimon Hounsou).
“His music is made from the earth, using didgeridoo, shakuhachi (traditional Japanese bamboo flute) and skinned percussion,” the composer explains.
For the spirit Ariel (a digitally manipulated Ben Whishaw), Goldenthal chose obvious — and effective — airy sounds. “I used flutes pushed through echo chambers, manipulated them, and then produced those sounds in electronic ways,” he says. “I also used glass harmonica, which sounds like the rim of a Champagne glass and creates an ephemeral sound perfect to accompany Ariel. ”
Then there were the clowns to consider — played by Alfred Molina and Russell Brand in this case. “That’s pure comedy scoring,” Goldenthal says. “A little pungent guitar, percussion and dissonance. Plus sort of an Americana-jazz feeling, as well as oddball rock-and-roll.
Because Taymor wanted the romance between Miranda (Felicity Jones) and Ferdinand (Reeve Carney) heightened, the song “O Mistress Mine” was interpolated from “Twelfth Night,” with Goldenthal lending music to Shakespeare’s words.
“They can’t make love or make out,” says Taymor of the characters. “So this song has the ability to be sensual without being sexy.”
Goldenthal’s biggest challenge came at the end, when setting “Now my charms are all o’erthrown,” the play’s final invocation, uttered by Prospero — here rendered as Prospera thanks to Helen Mirren in the role.
“Usually Prospero kind of breaks character and speaks it directly to the audience, asking them to create a little breeze by hand-clapping that will set his sails and set him free,” the composer says, alluding to his task of turning it into a song for Beth Gibbons of Portishead fame. “Originally Julie didn’t think it was necessary. She thought she’d finished the film without it — until she saw the film. Then she said this was going to be my hardest task. So I locked myself in the house for four days and didn’t go out till I got it right.”
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