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Bringing the Music of Shakespeare to Life

Muhly

Photo of Nico Muhly by Matthew Murphy

Nico Muhly, composer of film scores, classical music and operas, is no stranger to theatre. He wrote a paper about the costume design in The Winter’s Tale while studying English at Columbia University—simultaneously with Composition at Juilliard—and last year composed the music for a production of Tony Kushner’s The Illusion at Signature Theatre in New York City. So when Rebecca Taichman, Muhly’s collaborator on the chamber opera Dark Sisters, brought up her production of The Winter’s Tale, he immediately responded, “That’s the one where she comes back to life.”

Muhly has worked closely with Taichman and Set Designer Christine Jones to shape compositions for The Winter’s Tale with Hermione’s transformation in mind. “I knew I had to build the whole piece around that moment,” Muhly said. “Everything has to lead to that.” Having composed a wide scope of work for ensembles, soloists and organizations including the Boston Pops, New York Philharmonic and Paris Opéra Ballet, Muhly is seasoned in projects that combine music and story. He has also lent his skills as performer, arranger and conductor to contemporary artists such as Jónsi of the band Sigur Rós, Björk and Usher.

“This is one of those delicious Shakespeare plays that takes place in two distinct locations,” Muhly said. He believes the geography of The Winter’s Tale imposes its structure on every piece of the production. “The musical languages for Sicilia and Bohemia are totally different.” Sicilia, for example, is baroque and stylized, while the music from Bohemia has a folksong feel. As he began to interpret the piece musically, Muhly said he “didn’t want to be too literal” and drew inspiration from influences as far-flung as Transylvanian wedding music and Benjamin Britten’s opera version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

By incorporating live musicians into the production, Muhly has given the compositions and the show a chance to metamorphose together. “It’s not just a needle drop thing. As performances deepen, the music will change along with the production,” Muhly said. “I think it’s going to be fun.”

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Kate Colwell is the Communications Intern for STC’s 2012-2013 Season. She is making her way through the world with a love for Avenue Q and a B.A. in English from the University of Virginia.

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