Exclusive: Interview with Opera Writer Miguel Bulteau

Over the course of the last year, there have been several Zelda music albums making their way out into the world, both official and fan made alike. This trend can be largely attributed to the greatness of the music, but it is also very likely that the events surrounding the 25th Anniversary of The Legend of Zelda have sparked the imaginations of hundreds of game music fans all around the world. The insurgence of all of these new albums and singles has made for a very exciting year for fans of Zelda music, and so far there are no signs of things slowing down.

I recently had the opportunity to chat with a Portuguese fan currently working on Majora, an opera based on the music and story of Majora's Mask. Miguel Bulteau is a musician with a perspective of Zelda and its music that few dare to approach. The complete three-and-a-half hour opera is being designed to be a fully-fledged production complete with actors on the stage and an orchestra in the pit, rather than as a video or CD album. He was nice enough to share some of the finer details and philosophies behind his project.

Radio Hyrule: Would you like to tell us about where you're from and how you got started with video game music?
Miguel Bulteau: I'm from (and still stuck in) Portugal! Video game music has been with me ever since my first console, the Sega Mega Drive (which Americans know as Sega Genesis), at four years of age with Sonic the Hedgehog.

RH: Nice! I used to have one of those.. lots of fond memories.
MB: It still works too! I'm twenty-three now, so... it's going to be twenty years old next year. As years went by, I had more games, more consoles including NES, Gameboys, and stopped at the N64.

RH: Lots of great video game tunes from that era!
MB: Yes, as the years went by I always noticed I listened to video game music intently, and liked it as much as other music, and I noticed everyone around me didn't pay it any sort of interest. When I got Sonic 3, I used an old kids tape recorder to record the music, especially of Ice Cap Zone, because I loved it so much! It's my earliest memory of "tingles" from video game music, although today that theme still makes me feel good, it's a rather bland and uneventful theme.

RH: Haha, I'm sure there were a lot of kids who have done that at some point in their lives!
MB: When I was little I wanted to be the first to make video game music generally known, instrumented, because I could hear it in real instruments in my head. But you know, kids think only what's around them is the real world and plenty of people already beat me to the punch! Luckily, that became a secondary, if ever important, goal for me. I have my original work as well, and this opera actually started as an exercise in getting attention on the internet.

RH: Is Sonic your favorite video game series then?
MB: Not my favorite, no, but one of my favorites definitely. I sincerely lost interest in it after the Genesis games! I don't really like 3D Sonic games.

RH: Was the Nintendo 64 your last console?
MB: Owned by me, yes. I have recently (some years ago) borrowed a Gamecube from a friend so I could play Twilight Princess and Wind Waker. It was around that time that my girlfriend became addicted to Zelda! She wanted to play all of those I had already played with me. Her notion of "playing" is "watch me play," but I didn't mind. We played Wind Waker, Twilight Princess, Ocarina of Time, and Majora's Mask together.

RH: I'm assuming Majora's Mask left a pretty big impression on you.
MB: Yes, it did. I first played it when I was eleven. I got up at three in the morning to play because I couldn't stand the anxiety! The replay of Majora's Mask with my girlfriend was what got the opera's idea into my head. It's a very old idea actually, that came out of nowhere during a productive phase, but I thought there wasn't really any decent basis for it and it was essentially forgotten.

RH: What made you recently decide to start working on it?
MB: What got me thinking was the Zelda Symphony for Zelda's 25th birthday. If that could happen, why couldn't this? I never liked medleys and wanted to make a bigger and more "flowing" work. Something with a beginning and an end, and context for the music.

RH: You have a very interesting approach of arranging different melodies that most other video game arrangers don't use, music theory devices like melodic inversions and augmentation.
MB: Yes, I like that. The opera is full of references like that: hidden lines in basslines and other places, inversions, augmentations, reversals...

RH: I think that's brilliant.
MB: Well I do hope it brings more interest from more people! That's why the opera isn't targeted only at Zelda fans. It works as a self-contained story.

RH: It also gives the listeners something more to do while listening.
MB: Yes, it's something that also tires me a lot in the official Zelda Symphony medleys--the orchestration is beautiful, but their development consists almost always of bridges. But there's something I must say: Koji Kondo is a discreet genius. This is first and foremost a tribute to Mr. Kondo. I am forced to analyze his music before using it, obviously, so I can write it. You would be surprised at what he does! For example, do you remember "Clock Town's" bassline?

RH: I do!
MB: D, C#, B, C#, repeat ad infinitum. What if I told you that can be a perfect parallel to the fact that you go back and forth between three days? The place that is named after time ("Clock Town") holds that bassline. Three notes back and forth.. back and forth.

RH: Koji Kondo is a genius! I had never thought about it like that before.
MB: The man is absolutely brilliant!

RH: I'm sure there are all kinds of other things he's hidden in all over the place.
MB: Yes, I noticed he hides Majora's theme in that "cursed place" theme you hear in every part of the world you go to where you haven't killed the boss yet when I had to use it for Kafei's incursion into the swamp.

RH: So far you have posted a handful of previews on to your YouTube channel. The scenes that accompany the music are really fun to watch! Can you tell us more about how you put those together?
MB: Okay well, I am at a music academy. So, you are automatically surrounded by musicians. It's actually a relatively recent environment for me, as I am mostly self-taught in composition. I have had piano classes and that's it. I noticed musicians, at least here, are very helpful with each other, because at this stage they want experience. So any gig, any recording, or concert--they like to do it.
The first demo, the "Mayor's Council Room" fugue, (which wasn't supposed to be the first demo, but the first experiments with the "Clock Town" choir were disastrous), was recorded with people I already knew for a while and who I knew could read well, because that fugue is not easy. There were two students and a teacher, none operatically trained as you can probably hear. That fugue is actually the best demo in terms of what we pulled off, because all of that is one simultaneous take.

RH: Oh wow, that's amazing!
MB: We hadn't gotten to the stage of recording people individually yet; that's why you have volume issues in that demo. I wanted a good balance, and it simply didn't work. We did, like seven takes of the whole thing I think. The singing was good, but after finding the perfect take you can't possibly whine about volume issues.

RH: When did the idea for a video come along?
MB: I never originally intended to post videos--it was a last minute thing. I had the sound and I was like, "huh, I can clearly see these guys arguing behind a curtain, lighted from the inside." And I thought, "how hard can it be to get three people to argue in front of a sheet?" Well, it was hard, because my initial thought implied people who were not the singers. I still have the footage, and the fail level is over 9000! Telling people who aren't used to singling out a voice from three, in a fugue, to follow that voice is suicide. So I got the singers to do it. The tenor who was the mayor couldn't come, so I did it. I wrote the bloody thing, and I rehearsed them--I better know it by heart!

RH: Is that what you ended up doing for the rest of the videos?
MB: Yes, all demos follow this method. Audio first, video later. It doesn't matter who's on the video, people don't know the singers personally. Sakon's video is actually played by the guy who shoots the videos, who loves the character. He has awesome body language, might I add. "Deku Palace" was the exception, because I could not possibly get all those things behind a sheet. I had already gotten an animator for another demo that is long and will come in August, the "Giant's Aria", so I asked if he could stop a bit and do the "Deku Palace" animation. He said sure! Mr. Aaron Kline, talented animator. I met him when I called for animators at the blog. I sent all those who applied a snippet of the demo to animate. He fared better!

RH: He did a wonderful job! I'm really looking forward to the next demo.
MB: It's going well, he's been sending me previews. The next demo won't be animated though, it'll be another sheet thing. It's a trio between Anju, her mother, and the postman. Basically, the trio is gradual. First Anju, then the postman, then the mother and it gets frantic in a light way. This is the first day, so the mood is still rather sunny. The music will get less and less comfortable as the days go by. By day three you'll be praying for a resolution of decent strength!

RH: My favorite demo so far has been "Pamela's Arietta". I was genuinely frightened by a YouTube video for the first time in a long while!
MB: Haha! That skeletal figure is me! No visual effects.

RH: You did a damn good job!
MB: I'm too damn skinny, that's what. Wet hair caught behind my head with a band, naked from the waist up and in tights--ridiculous in real life, scary in shadows. I had to face forward all the time, or else you'd see my massive nose, or my hair caught in a bunch! Poor girl, had to witness that. Thankfully she's known me for a while!

RH: Well, it could have been worse.. like an actual ReDead..
MB: Nomnomnom.. That would have been his next move!

RH: You've stated a number of times that Majora isn't being created for Zelda fans alone. Furthermore, operas aren't exactly known for having mass appeal to large audiences. Have you received a lot of negative feedback from the Zelda community for choosing to create an opera versus something more popularly accepted?
MB: Actually, I have never gotten negative feedback about it being an opera, specifically. I have gotten people, one or two, I think, who said they would have preferred if the voices were light as those in the demos, but who didn't shun the idea of an opera.

RH: Awesome! I'm glad that silly Americans are (possibly!) becoming more sensible towards different forms of art.
MB: I think the only negative feedback I got was from one Facebook commenter who kept comparing this to Spider-Man the musical, and that it would ruin the good name of the game. He insisted it for a while, but I haven't heard anything since. I also remember it being compared to a poor man's Troilus and Cressida at one of the Zelda forums I advertised the idea and searched for opinions in, before releasing the first demo and opening the Facebook page and the blog. So, that counts two, but one of them didn't care about it being an opera specifically.

RH: Your work certainly deserves the full support of the community; it's a masterpiece that will definitely appeal to a large audience.
MB: Thank you! I think it can, because firstly the story keeps moving, so you don't really stay too long in the same thing. By too long I mean twenty minutes, and I do invoke some unoperatic elements, sometimes, but that's not new. The point is that the story is self-contained, especially because Link is absent. The Happy Mask Salesman has a prologue before Act I, and he lays out the details for those who don't know the story while bemoaning his lost mask.

RH: That's really cool! I'm definitely excited to hearing how things progress, and I'm sure our readers are too! Thank you for spending some time for us.
MB: You're more than welcome!

If you're interested in keeping up-to-date on Majora's progress, you can like the Facebook page, follow @MBulteau on Twitter, and bookmark the official website. More information can also be found on Miguel's personal website. We look forward to posting updates on Radio Hyrule! Thanks for reading!

Follow the author of this article @ericbuchholz!