Interview

Carl Davis, Composer, toasts Aladdin

Composer Carl Davis toasts Aladdin.

On February 15, 2013, Aladdin, the ballet, receives its English premiere in Birmingham by the Birmingham Royal Ballet, choreographed by David Bintley, the company’s Director. It had been a long hard journey, beginning in Glasgow, commissioned by Scottish Ballet and premiered in 2000.

I seized the opportunity to record the complete ballet in 2006 for Naxos with the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra and passed an early pressing to David Bintley then reviving his Cyrano ballet with my new score. He greeted the Aladdin disc with enthusiasm and mounted it in Tokyo for the National Ballet of Japan in 2008, with further performances in 2010. And now the circle is complete and the magic lantern now rests in England.

One of the best known of the Tales of 1001 Nights, it is the UK’s most popular pantomime. Indeed the major elements are the same. Aladdin, at first a mischievous troublemaker in the thrall of a wicked magician, travels across the Gobi desert to an underground cave full of priceless jewels. . . and a magic lamp which when rubbed produces a genie who grants him his every wish.

Aladdin will marry a beautiful princess, rescue her after being kidnapped by the magician, and return her to Peking on a flying carpet.

The score travels too.

The music for the ceremonial scenes (trials, weddings, marches and celebrations including the traditional Lion Dance and the Dragon Procession) borrows from the Chinese pentatonic scale, i.e. the black notes on a piano. The magician hails from Morocco, hence Arabic rhythms and scales. The story telling and set pieces move through a variety of styles and meters.

But I had to solve the lamp and the genie. I thought the lamp itself should seem to have atomic properties, and belong to today’s sci-fi world.

This theme opens the ballet and pervades the entire score. It provides the means by which Aladdin makes his own personal journey from a good-for-nothing to a prince. Equally the pampered princess shows courage and ingenuity in defying the Magician in Act III.

Composing for ballet has been a lifelong obsession. One of the great thrills is to see what movements are created, stimulated by a particular phrase or rhythm in the score. Virtually all of David’s choreography was made in Japan and so when I finally saw the Tokyo production it was a complete surprise – but a very happy one. I sat through four complete performances and found it perfection.

Now Aladdin must rub his magic lamp and travel on. Good luck to him.

Carl Davis