Great music is so often found within the Orpheus and Eurydice legend, there shouldn't be much surprise that there's plenty of it in the Wilma Theater's current production of
, the Sarah Ruhl retelling of the story of love that dies twice. What's startling is that Toby Twining's music - a significant component of the production's success - is a synthesis of elements unlike anything heard outside cutting-edge downtown Manhattan art circles. Maybe not even there.
Significant musical innovation is happening where you don't expect it - far away from the new-music greenhouses, and in some mainstream media where it proves hugely effective for audiences not there to hear music. Similarly, you could adore Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood and still be spirited into new musical territory in his score for
There Will Be Blood
(now out on DVD), whose opening moments have one of those huge Marc-Andre Dalbavie-style glissandos with different orchestral voices swooping in and converging into a unison note that's searing, uncomplicated and direct.
Filmmaker Stanley Kubrick often employed avant-garde Gyorgy Ligeti in his film soundtracks, up through his final
Eyes Wide Shut
. Philip Glass' music was made for film; he has written for
, among others. And that great art-house movie,
, has a score by Michael Gordon that envelops audiences that normally wouldn't go near one of his concerts.
Fusion with visual imagery, of course, is what allows theater and movie audiences to enter new musical territory without the resistance sometimes experienced by higher-toned audiences at concerts. It's true that Greenwood's score dips only momentarily into Dalbavie World, and the sorts of things usually heard from brooding, hypnotic, Baltic-republic minimalists. But taking one's ears into virtually unknown places has the effect of kidnapping one's psyche. Thanks to what you're hearing, what you see arrives in a fresh context - essential with
There Will Be Blood
, whose Upton Sinclair plot about a turn-of-the-20th-century oil baron could easily be compartmentalized as yet another morality tale/history lesson, as opposed to an unflinching study in psychological brutality.
Long before the protagonist, played by Daniel Day Lewis, enacts financial, moral and emotional degradation on his nearest and dearest, you hear that potential (even if you don't see it), thanks to the niggling, rustling, irrationally anxious undercurrents given to a number of scenes by Greenwood's explorations of atonality and polyrhythms.
remarkably transcends the greatness that audiences may already know from the 1607 Claudio Monteverdi opera
, which codified a fusion of narrative, character and intense emotion into a single vocal line, to the Alfred Hitchcock film
, which inspired a soulful score instead of the usual icy brilliance from Bernard Herrmann.
The Ruhl script focuses on Eurydice's viewpoint of dying on her wedding day, attempting to accustom herself to the underworld, and then losing faith as her husband is leading her back to life. The Wilma production, with its spare, abstract, sloping sets and stylized acting - all superior to last year's production at New York's Second Stage - lent itself the unorthodox sound envelope created by four voices and solo cello in tight-knit, even microtonal harmonies suggesting a cross between medieval chant and a household smoke alarm.
Neither as light and plucky as Twining's best-known compact disc,
, nor as cathedral-like in its multilayered expanse as his
music kicks into its highest gear when Orpheus sings at the gates of the underworld. With about seven prerecorded tracks plus the live singers, you hear a 40-voice harmonic wall meticulously constructed to cancel out any suggestions of major or minor keys or any hope that these notes could be resolved. Tiny chinks open here and there amid this otherwise inpenetrable sound, against which Orpheus sang with the rhapsodic desperation associated with Monteverdi's best moments. I've been back twice just to hear that. Though you can revisit musical selections on the Web site,
, it's not the same experience you have with the emotional impact of the visual imagery.
What sort of aesthetic model could come out of these case histories is hard to say.
The day after
opened, Twining was back in reality, specifically Wolfeboro, N.H., where he has a church job. Greenwood's
There Will Be Blood
score was ineligible for Oscar consideration on a technicality. And when I saw the film the day after Daniel Day Lewis' Oscar win, I was literally the only person in the theater. But the music is out there in the ecosystem, undoubtedly expanding the way the world hears - albeit in ways that are private, subtle and impossible to measure.