Friday, April 13, 2012

That One Song

One of my decidedly modern inspirations for The Ballad of Dido was The Threepenny Opera. I've always been a fan of that show, and was fortunate enough to have been able to direct a production of it with Clarkson in 2004, but what's I'm talking about is Brecht and Weill's original process. They didn't set out to create a new musical; the original plan was for a fairly straight forward German translation of John Gay's Beggar's Opera, which evolved into a German adaptation with some original music, and by the time they were done, only one of Gay's songs remained. 

I was initially planning on The Ballad of Dido existing as a rather more straightforward cut of Marlowe's Dido, Queen of Carthage, interspersed with relevant early modern and roots ballads. Now that we're finished, only a few direct fragments of Marlowe, Vergil, and a little Shakespeare still exist in the script, and all of the songs are original, except one: "Don't This Road Look Rough and Rocky."

"Don't this road" (or "Don't that road") is one of those songs you've almost certainly heard before. It's been covered by just about everyone who plays roots music, and appears in a couple instruction books in the genre, and as it is, it seemed a great fit for the moment when Aeneas tells Dido he's going to leave her. Well... with some minor adjustments to the lyrics. 

To a certain degree, leaving the song in the show was its own logic. I have previously talked a little bit about why I find American roots and classical epics to be a perfect fit, but the genre of music itself didn't feel like enough of an anchor when characters talk about places named Carthage, Troy, and Ilium (although the show would be right at home in my native Upstate NY, where those, along with Rome, Vergil, Homer, and Ithaca are modern cities). Having a (mostly) intact version of a traditional song at such a crucial moment in the story helps serve as an anchor for audience's ear. 

So just like Brecht and Weill before me, Rachel and I have that one song that made it through to the final cut. I know it might sound a bit arrogant to be drawing such a lofty comparison, but it makes me feel better knowing that our new musical follows in the footsteps of giants in some way. 

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