Over the past three months, my choir and I have been preparing for a concert with music set to texts of Shakespeare for the Sounds about Town series at Walt Disney Concert Hall. The plays from which the lyrics come from include The Merchant of Verona, Sir John in Love, Henry VIII, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Cymbeline, As You Like It, Midsummer Night’s Dream, and coincidentally, The Tempest. In fact, a work we will be premiering that evening consists of three movements set to three significant monologues that have been brought up in class so far. The first movement uses Miranda’s speech after witnessing the shipwreck at the beginning of the play (“Oh, I have suffered with those that I saw suffer…”), the second utilizes Caliban’s speech declaring his love for the island (“Be not afeard. The isle is full of noises…”), and the third uses lines of Prospero that we should be quite familiar with by now (“…We are such stuff as dreams are made on…”).
The experience of learning and refining the three movements while simultaneously reading and studying The Tempest in class has been both stimulating and satisfying. Both mediums provide two distinct lenses through which the play can be interpreted. I won’t give away all the similarities and differences I have discovered between the two perspectives or any details on each movement’s musical language and construction since that would be spoiling the work before its world premiere this Sunday. However, I’m willing to share information on the work as a whole, which I acquired during a Q&A session that we had with our composer yesterday during rehearsal.
A topic of discussion that came up was the choice of the three texts. When our composer, Mr. Bjarnason, had contacted our choir director about using The Tempest for the work, our director had expected him to use much lighter text from the play, particularly the many whimsical, airy songs Ariel sings since the work is written for children’s voices. Mr. Bjarnason had explained that his purpose in choosing of the three monologues was to create what he called a “dramatic arch” set by three essential, key moments in the play. And a fellow chorister had asked the essential question. Why The Tempest? Mr. Bjarnason answered saying it was the most accessible play for the purpose of writing music. The island as a backdrop creates a strong and prevalent atmosphere. In writing the work, he intended to have the orchestra serve as the island and the chorus as the island’s spirits.