The Zelda franchise is one of the longest-running in video games, originating in 1986 with the original The Legend of Zelda, and continuing to the most recent release Breath of the Wild in 2017, and certainly many more to come over the years. One of the most popular games in the series, Ocarina of Time (1998), is the foundation stone for the part-classical part-jazz performance OCARINA, presented at the Malthouse Theatre for one night only to pay homage to the brilliant works of composer Koji Kondo.
OCARINA is performed by a number of groups, all coming together to create a wonderful fusion of homages and note-for-note performances of the original music from Ocarina of Time. It opens with a classic rendition of the theme song, spanning the entire series of games, transitioning quickly into a jazzy remix by The Consouls, a well-known cover band who take video game music and jazz it up. This particular performance wouldn’t at all sound out of place in a classy lounge, a testament to the skills of the Consouls members.
Following this is two hours of wonderful pieces from the Zelda series. These are performed by The Consouls when a little saxophone is required, and by pianist Nick Young, the Con Brio Strings, and Ensemble Françaix when the tunes need a little more of a classical touch. Shining over the entire show is Melbourne-based Ryan Williams, a recorder artist who learned to play the titular Ocarina (of Time, of course) for this show. Of course, as the Ocarina of Time video game was developed in 1998, the entire soundtrack was performed using a synthesizer rather than an actual ocarina. However, Williams has brilliantly transcribed the music and uses his instruments to produce echoed, willowy sounds to compliment Kondo’s original score.
Many of the songs from the Zelda series are instantly recognisable. Zelda’s Theme is a slow, beautiful piece of music, reminiscent of Princess Zelda herself, and Epona’s Song is well known as the tune Link (the protagonist) plays to summon his horse, Epona. Some other songs, for people who are unfamiliar with the series, are less well-known, however listening to them is no less joyful.
Complimenting the music itself is the slide show, filled with Zelda-themed art by performing cellist Vicky Zhang, which is used well to set the scene for each song or group of themed songs. In addition to that is the lighting scheme, which washes across the stage to draw the audience into the feeling of each song. While performing the Lon Lon Ranch theme, for example, the stage was lit in a gorgeous green, creating a vision of rolling fields across the orchestra. The Sun Song, on the other hand, was performed under bright orange, reminiscent of the sun across the Hylian sky.
One of the pleasures of OCARINA is the sheer delight of every performer. Williams is all smiles after his ocarina solos, and The Consouls are extremely animated as they perform. The classical performers are, of course, more reserved, but they get into it during moments of clicking or clapping intended to include the audience as well.
OCARINA is a treat for people both familiar and unfamiliar with video game music, as well as people who love a few classical strings, and those who would be more at home in a darkened jazz bar. Like the Zelda series itself, OCARINA deserves longevity, and it would be great to see these varied performers back together again to bring these songs – or even others! – to life onstage.