When his Serenada Schizophrana was performed live at Carnegie Hall in 2005, Danny Elfman seemed to shed the shackles and demands of film, providing some of the freshest music of his career. With IRIS, Cirque du Soleil’s new stage show, Elfman is inspired once again to new heights of inventiveness with one of his most joyful musical creations.
The show, which is currently playing at the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles, explores the history of cinema and its various genres through a combination of dance, acrobatics, live video, filmed sequences and animation. In interviews, Elfman has said that writing the score was “more akin to writing for the ballet than film.” Inspired by the show’s acrobats, the music has an energy that has been missing from much of Elfman’s film work of late.
Though the show takes audiences on a journey through the history of cinema, Elfman makes no attempt to cover all the subgenres of film music in the process. Most of the music is not era specific, with the exception of the rooftop sequence, in which Elfman summons up the ghost of Leonard Bernstein at his finger-snapping best in the style of WEST SIDE STORY. Wailing saxophone and swinging trumpet sing a tawdry song of life on the street, while the pursuit over the rooftops has a relentless drive in its string ostinati and punctuating brass notes.
The historical aspects of the show gave Elfman free license to explore his own history as well, and the score incorporates many of his signature styles with renewed vigor. “Buster’s Big Opening” begins the album with a trademark Elfman waltz, childlike and wondrous in its sparkling orchestrations and wordless chorus, while the “Kiriki” sequences show the influence of early frenetic scores like PEE WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE and BEETLEJUICE.
Elfman delves into more typical Cirque du Soleil territory with the ethereal “Patterns.” In “Scarlett Balancing,” he channels his inner James Horner with a gently pulsating New Age beat and a floating vocal line.
Arguably the high point of the album is the finale. As the cast take their bows, Elfman coalesces the main theme from “Buster’s Big Opening” with the energetic music of the “Kiriki” segment into a rousing processional. Among the swirling strings and one last blast of PEE WEE machinations, the majestic brass modulate higher and higher until—with three final goosebump-inducing, BATMAN-like French horn riffs—Elfman brings this superb concert work to a brilliant and exciting close.
IRIS represents Elfman at his very best—the best film music from 2011 that is not a film score. Without the constrictions and demands of film, Elfman’s music captures a sense of magic and wonder that hopefully can return in greater doses in his film music. With IRIS, Elfman once again blossoms as a composer, proving yet again that the bloom is not off this rose.