FRANK J. OTERI: Theatre is a very different experience from both the symphonic concert world and the film world because there you have all this collaborative stuff happening the way you do in film a lot of the time, but it’s in real time. You’ve done a ton of work in theatre. It’s an area that is very important to you and you’re still doing a lot of work in.
ELLIOT GOLDENTHAL: I’m writing an opera now. That’s theatre. Last year we had The Green Bird on Broadway. My ballet was performed down at the Metropolitan Opera and San Francisco has just recorded it for Great Performances. It was done at the Garnier in Paris, the old opera house, this past year. Theatre has been one-third of the triumvirate that makes up my professional career, which is personal concert music, theatre, and film. Theatre is wonderful because you really have to roll up your sleeves and get your hands and arms dirty. You really have to get in there. You have to make it work. I did a lot of regional theatre works like the The King Stag at the A.R.T., which is still running now, since 1984. It’s touring the world somewhere. Whereas you go in there, you’re the only musician. You have the director, who happened to be Andrei Serban at the time, and a bunch of actors and you start from scratch. You might compose stuff, but you’re basically improvising with actors in a shut room for six hours a day until you have a theatre piece. You play all the instruments. You play the keyboards, winds, and percussion. After rehearsal you go down to the basement and put all the instruments away. You do everything. In a way, that type of theatre, where you’re at an instrument, there are actors in a room, then the director goes “go.” There’s no idea in your head, but you got to go. You do it right on the spot until it becomes something. I did so much theatre like that.
FRANK J. OTERI: The work that really put you on the map in an international way is Juan Darien. It’s such an unusual piece on so many levels. What is it? It’s not a musical. It’s not an opera. It’s somewhere in-between a concert work and a theatre work. It’s really your own unique form.
ELLIOT GOLDENTHAL: It’s a carnival mass! What it is, it’s taking elements that you’d expect at the carnival and elements that you’d expect at a mass. The elements that you expect at a mass are an attempt by high culture to express a religious event. In other words, you work real hard to get the fugue as beautiful as you can because you’re honoring God. What you do at a carnival is the opposite in a way. You want to compose music, or sing music, or hear music that is common and that thrives and derives from common events, so that people can feel that they’re enjoying themselves together. The collision of the carnival and the mass was something that in the story of Juan Darien— you have a set of collisions: the collision between human life and animal life, the collision between the church and the jungle, the collision between morals and miracles. It’s really a very special part of my life to have worked on that work.
FRANK J. OTERI: When we talk about your kitchen metaphor, it’s an interesting metaphor applying to this piece. In the wonderful kitchen that made Juan Darien, it’s the kind of a piece you could never imagine being on Broadway, per se. Broadway rarely takes those kinds of chances anymore, though they used to.
ELLIOT GOLDENTHAL: Medea is on Broadway. Simon McBurney‘s work The Chairs was on Broadway. The Green Bird was on Broadway. It happens from time to time. They don’t expect huge, huge returns, but there are very, very brave producers who do put really interesting things on Broadway.
FRANK J. OTERI: I’m thinking of the kind of labor of love that Music-Theatre Group was behind.
ELLIOT GOLDENTHAL: Music-Theatre Group, specifically Lyn Austin, was sort of the mystic main spring behind Juan Darien in the sense that she believed in it so much. She wasn’t even interested in hearing a preview or a workshop situation. She said, “Just do it. I trust you; just do it.” There are very few Lyn Austins around.