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17 September 2019

Much Ado About Nothing - songs for theatre and vocal performance

Mandy Bishop and Danny Ball in <em>Much Ado About Nothing</em>. Image: Mandy Bishop and Danny Ball in Much Ado About Nothing.  
© Clare Hawley

Andrée Greenwell writes about her new songs, composed as part of her music for Bell Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing (touring nationally, including the Playhouse, Canberra, 11-19 October and the Playhouse, Sydney Opera House, 22 October - 24 November). 'Voice Crossings' performance of new works by Andrée Greenwell and Con Koukias will take place at Balmain Town Hall on Sunday 24 November as part of the Inner West Council's EDGE Balmain.

This year I was commissioned to compose music and sound design for the Bell Shakespeare national touring production of William Shakespeare's comedy Much Ado About Nothing, directed by James Evans. The production premiered at the Civic Theatre, Orange, on 12 July, and is currently touring nationally in a season of 104 performances, culminating in a four-week season at Sydney Opera House in October-November.

There are many schools performances in the season, so I have arranged the songs I composed for the production for either solo or group voices. These songs are also part of a long-term project of mine, to rearrange for young adult singers some of the hundreds of songs I have written for my music theatre works and gradually make them available via the AMC.

Shakespeare included two songs in Much Ado About Nothing, to be sung by the musician-character 'Balthasar'. In this production, the role is performed by the brilliant actor and musician Mandy Bishop, known for her comedy portrayals of the former Prime Minister of Australia, Julia Gillard. The director, James Evans, wanted to expand the contribution of the musician's role in the play, so we decided to conclude the performance with a setting of Sonnet 116, 'Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments'.

Typically of my work, the overall sound for the play is eclectic, and I have made use of techno-influenced music and incorporated renaissance-styled melodic lines in addition to the songs. I experimented with many recordings of bells, and processed a lot of metallic sounds, which are woven into the interstitial music pieces.

The three songs performed by the actors in the play blend renaissance vocal and indie-folk styles. These are ideal for young singers and school choirs or vocal groups, and the arrangements for voices - with either piano, guitar or ukulele - can be found online in the AMC library (see: Sonnet 116, Sigh no more ladies and Pardon goddess of the night). They are melodically strong, and the settings contemporarily update the historic texts in a manner that is refreshing yet carefully considers the dramatic intentions of the author's words.

This is the third play I have scored that was written by Shakespeare. The first production I composed was Macbeth directed by James McCaughey, performed by a cast of female actors at the Victorian College of the Arts, in 1987. In 2008 I scored the Bell Shakespeare/Malthouse co-production of Venus and Adonis, directed by Marion Potts. The music theatre adaption of this virtuosic poem featured Melissa Madden Gray (aka Meow Meow) and Susan Prior, accompanied by recorders, electric guitar and percussion. The production was presented in seasons at Malthouse, Melbourne, Sydney Theatre Company, and Auckland Festival. I was awarded a Green Room Award for that score in 2009.

In contrast to the epic poem Venus and Adonis, the language style of Much Ado About Nothing is considered to be the most contemporary of Shakespeare's works, because it does not employ much iambic pentameter. Balthasar's ironic entertainment 'Sigh No More Ladies', features the Elizabethan turn of phrase 'Hey nonny nonny'. As the concluding lyric line of a song, this was highly challenging to set to make the song entertaining for the general public of today, and simultaneously avoid anachronism. If you wish to see how I solved that either get hold of the music or come and see the play!

On the day of the final performance of Much Ado About Nothing I will be premiering some new vocal compositions in a popup performance 'Voice Crossings'. The event is going to be part of the Inner West Council's festival, EDGE Balmain, and we will perform in the beautiful setting of Balmain Town Hall. 'Voice Crossings' includes a new work for soprano, cello and electronics that I have commissioned from Amsterdam-based Australian composer, Constantine Koukias. Shadow of Shadows is set to a beautiful poem by Con's mother, about her experience of migration from Greece to Australia. I will be also showing some sketch pieces toward Three Marys, a chamber opera I am developing with librettist, Christine Evans, about the mythic exile and journey of the three biblical Marys from the Middle-East to France, by boat.

AMC resources

Andrée Greenwell - AMC profile

Andrée Greenwell: Sigh No More Ladies for solo voice, or vocal trio, and optional accompaniments of piano and/or guitar or ukulele

Andrée Greenwell: Pardon Goddess of the Night for mezzo-soprano or alto voice, with optional backup vocals, with keyboard and/or guitar accompaniment

Andrée Greenwell: Sonnet 116 for SATB choir with keyboard and/or guitar accompaniment

Constantine Koukias - AMC Profile


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