Making Musical Magic in Aladdin

Artists of Birmingham Royal Ballet; Aladdin; Bill Cooper

Composer Carl Davis, who is highly acclaimed in the fields of film and musicals, has written numerous ballet, TV and film scores. (His score for The French Lieutenant’s Woman in 1981  won the BAFTA Award for Best Film Music.)  Mr. Davis worked with English choreographer David Bintley to create the score for Mr. Bintley’s three-act magical ballet Aladdin. Houston Ballet will present the American premiere of Aladdin February 20-March 2, 2014 at Wortham Theater Center. In this blog entry, Mr. Davis talks about the evolution of his score for Aladdin, the strict demands of writing scores for films, and his genial collaboration with Mr. Bintley.


1. How has the score for
Aladdin evolved? 

Aladdin was composed for an earlier production, that of the Scottish Ballet in 2000 as a possible answer to finding an alternative to The Nutcracker for its Christmas seasons. In the case of that production the answer was “no” as the company ceased to exist in its large scale form by the following year. The score for Aladdin, until its new production by David Bintley for the National Ballet of Japan in 2008, seemed to be consigned to oblivion.

Carl Davis Headshot Colour

Music Composer Carl Davis

I decided to rescue it by making a recording of the score which coincided with my composition of a new score for David Bintley’s Cyrano ballet in 2005. He responded very positively to the music and, given the nature of the subject, thought it would be suitable when he took up directorship of the National Ballet of Japan. He asked me to re-score certain sections, particularly Aladdin’s flight from the bath house and his subsequent capture and trial. We also had a change of context for the Emerald Variation in Act I.  In the 2000 version I wryly interpreted the number as meaning green with envy. The revised music was nearer to ‘The Jungle Book’.

2. Can you describe the give and take of the collaborative process between choreographer and composer when creating a new narrative ballet?

Every experience is different. David and I laughed and chatted a lot, a real party experience. The real difference in this collaboration was that, unlike composing the Cyrano ballet where I started from David’s scenario, in Aladdin David bought into an already composed score. I am amazed by how much he kept.

But even the new sections had an evolved process. First I had to understand why we were making the changes, and it was generally that he suggested a different attitude towards that particular moment. And, there were some changes in the order of some of the numbers.

 

Aladdin César Morales Princess Badr al-Budur Nao Sakuma The Mahgrib Iain Mackay The Djinn of the Lamp Tzu-Chao Chou Aladdin’s Mother Marion Tait The Sultan, the Princess’s father Jonathan Payn Aladdin’s Friends James Barton, Mathias Dingman

Artists of Birmingham Royal Ballet; Aladdin; Bill Cooper

3. You have created orchestra works, scores for films and television, and scores for ballet. How is composing a score for ballet unique?

With film music you are given a strictly controlled time framework which you then fill with music, rather like painting by numbers. But generally other than contemporary dance where the movement may not be related to the music at all, in ballet the music has to be composed first and all inspiration for the movement is derived from it.

4. Anything else that you feel is significant about your artistic experience creating the score for Aladdin.

Aladdin was conceived as popular family entertainment based on a story from the ‘One Thousand and One Nights’ and familiar to the public through reading, theatre (Aladdin is Great Britain’s most favourite pantomime –  an arcane mixture of fairy tale, pop songs, and topical gags). I felt free to be as eclectic musically as I wished. After all my subject was composed in medieval Persia, set in China, with an excursion via flying carpet to Morocco. And the magic lamp is pure sci-fi. That gave me many options.

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From February 20-March 2, 2014, Houston Ballet presents the North American Premiere of David Bintley’s Aladdin, the first work by the celebrated English choreographer to enter Houston Ballet’s repertoire. A run-in with palace guards leads young Aladdin into a whirlwind of adventure and romance, involving unbelievable riches, love at first sight, treachery, and of course a magic lamp containing a powerful genie. Tickets start at $19, and may be purchased at www.houstonballet.org or by calling Houston Ballet box office at 713 227 2787, or 1800 828 2787.

Watch a preview of Aladdin here—

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