Alan John’s tempestuous score looks more East than West.

Written five years before he died, Shakespeare’s The Tempestcomes down to us as his most mysteriously resonant and also his most tuneful play.

Written in 1611, its story and songs have inspired composers from Purcell to Sibelius, from Pete Seeger to Michael Nyman. Over 40 operas have been based on The Tempestand some have hailed it as the first stage musical. Others speculate that the use of song and underscore is due to the play being co-authored by court lutenist Robert Johnson, whose settings for the songs Full Fathom Fiveand Where the Bee Suckshave been preserved in the 1659 publication Cheerful Ayres or Ballads.

“I don’t suppose we’ll ever know the truth, but Shakespeare specified an unusual amount of music for a play of that era,” says Alan John, the composer of the score and song settings for Bell Shakespeare’s new production of The Tempest. “Either way, he was certainly very ahead of his time. For example, towards the end of the play, there’s a passage where Prospero reconciles with his brother and before he starts his speech he calls for a ‘solemn air’ to be played....

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