Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night is rich with poetry and music. It begins with the famous quote, “if music be the food of love, play on,” and ends with Feste’s song, “For the Rain it Raineth Everyday.” This production of Twelfth Night was set in a Peter Max painting.
In our initial conversations via email, director Nancy Carlin asked me to compose music and sound in a style inspired by the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine. Carlin described her Twelfth Night in an email to me this way, “Illyria is Pepperland, where musical, happy, colorful people have been under the spell of ‘Blue Meanies,’ creating a sense of sadness, misery, and jealousy. Viola and Sebastian show up on this island and eventually bring love and togetherness. In the overture, we see Viola and Sebastian playing bass and viola together before they are separated by the shipwreck. Viola plays a Se‘bass’tian and Sebastian plays a ‘viola.’ Viola washes up on shore with what looks like a body bag but it really is a large acoustic bass she eventually uses to accompany herself singing ‘Come Away Death.’ In contrast, Sebastian walks around the island carrying a viola in a case.”
Nancy also requested that I create themes for each character in the play. Olivia would be represented with strings, Orsino with brass, Toby Belch and Sir Aguecheek would be “hip” and "plugged-in," Feste would carry a Sergeant Pepper’s inspired bass drum, Viola would play bass, and Sebastian would play viola. Cartoonish, two-dimensional cutouts of musical instruments would be used to mime performing the music. In contrast to all this music-making, Malvolio would hate all noise and music.
Nancy Carlin’s email description ended in this way, “Imagine that the arrival of musical siblings thawed the hearts and minds of those they met. Imagine if they inspired the residents to ‘turn off what is sour, turn into a flower, and bloom, bloom, bloom.’ If all these things were true, then Twelfth Night just might inspire us all to sing along, ‘Love is all you need!’ And ‘if music be the food of love, play on!’”
A musical metaphor for "Eleanor Rigby" is the mood used for Illyria prior to Sebastian and Viola's arrival. The string motifs from this song then inspire the music for Olivia’s house. During this piece of music, the characters of Olivia and Orsino are introduced to the audience. In this composition, the strings represent Olivia and her court. Oliva and her servants sit on the left side of the stage and mime a string quartet performance on two-dimensional cutouts of music instruments. The brass sounds at the end of this piece are representative of Orsino and his court. They mime playing on the opposite side of the stage.
Olivia is introduced to the audience in a state of mourning for her father and brother. In our production, Olivia, Maria, and her gentlewomen are shown miming a string quartet piece with two-dimensional, instrument cutouts. The "Eleanor Rigby" like theme is broken into three parts because the quartet stops playing at certain times within the dialogue.
In act II, scene 3, Feste stumbles upon a party going on with Sir Toby Belch and company. He indulges in singing and entertains the crowd with "O Mistress Mine." The song is about seizing the opportunity of love. This version of "O Mistress Mine" is modeled after the Beatles' "When I'm Sixty-Four." The first version is a demo recording used to teach the song and the second version is the one used in performance. It has been affected to sound like a record. Click here to see a movie of me creating this.
The music for this famous catch is based on Bob Dylan's "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35." Act II, scene 3 ends with Feste leading Sir Andrew and Toby Belch through these lyrics laden with double entendre. Their loud singing disturbs Malvolio as he rests.
"Come Away Death" is a song about unrequited love and is fashioned after the Beatles' "Fool On The Hill." Typically, Feste performs this piece at Orsino's request. Although he performs it for Orsino, he tells Viola, disguised as Cesario, to take note of it. Director Nancy Carlin gives the song directly to Viola in order to heighten the moment. This piece is intended for a female voice, but in the example above, a male provides the melody.
This piece was intended to sound like transitional music found in sitcoms. This piece is played just before intermission and is engineered to create suspense. The final note of this piece is a direct sample from the final moment of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.
In act 4, scene 1, Feste disguises himself as a local priest and torments Malvolio. In an earlier scene, Malvolio is tricked into presenting himself to Olivia while wearing cross-gartered, yellow stockings. Olivia declares him insane and commands Maria and Sir Toby Belch to lock him in a cell. In our production, Feste takes on the role of an Eastern guru. The first example introduces the scene and the second piece is played at the end. Feste sings the final lines of the scene with the second musical piece. These pieces are modeled after Beatles' songs like "Blue Jay Way" and "Within You Without You."
The final song of Twelfth Night is melancholic compared to the play's overall sense of optimism. Feste sings this song describing his own lack of love and this contrasts the connections between Sebastian and Olivia and Viola and Orsino. In our production, Feste starts "Rain," but other characters quickly join him singing. Nancy Carlin gives the song new meaning by allowing certain characters to sing particular lyrics. At the end of this song, the meter switches to a waltz. Viola and Orsino dance a waltz around giant letters spelling "LOVE."