Epiphany Theater Company commissioned me to compose incidental music for their 2006 production of Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll House in Saratoga, NY. Written in 1889, A Doll House tells the story of Nora Helmer, whose past crime of forging her father’s signature returns to threaten her husband’s social and business standing. In first concealing the crime and later reckoning with its consequences, Nora realizes she has become a “doll” to her husband, and that they do not understand one another despite eight years of marriage.
Ibsen’s description of the Helmers’ residence includes a piano, and in Acts II and III NORA dances a tarantelle accompanied by DR. RANK. These clues made solo piano the obvious choice for both the incidental and “source” music (music played as part of the action). Knowing the music should reference a style of the period, I began with some late Romantic piano conventions in mind but introduced more contemporary harmonic and rhythmic disturbances to suggest unrest and the breakdown of appearances.
The music was conceived as a set of cues rather than as discreet compositions and was recorded with special effects of distance, reverb, crowd noise, etc., to enhance the storytelling.
Cue 1: Opening Act I (Listen)
Cue 5: Opening Act III; Tarantelle as introduction, fading into a waltz that accompanies the conversation between MRS. LINDE and NILS KROGSTAD “(…Dance music is heard in the room above…)” (Listen)
Cue 6: Accompanies the sequence starting from MRS LINDE’s line “Hush! The tarantella! Go! Go!.” The Tarantelle is heard from the floor above. (Listen)
Cue 7: Closing Act III, immediately following HELMER’s line “The most wonderful thing of all–?” (Listen)
In the course of preparing this production I was privileged to have lunch and a long conversation one afternoon in Saratoga with Brian Johnston, a foremost Ibsen scholar and translator who originated what is now known as the Ibsen Cycle. Anyone interested in Ibsen or dramatic art in general will be fascinated to browse Professor Johnston’s website, Ibsen Voyages.