The Legend of Zelda series has never been known for complexity or depth. The story lines are very simple: an eternal battle of the ultimate good versus the ultimate evil. This is not a criticism—in fact, a cartoony, formulaic underdog-hero-saves-the-world has often been a welcome respite from the current world of gritty reboots and hyperrealism for many. And if the series has always been about fluffy, uncomplicated fun, The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses firmly followed suit.
Presented by Jason Michael Paul Entertainment at the Orpheum Theatre, the stage was set for this concert with a midsized orchestra (introduced as the “Zelda Orchestra”), accompanied by the Minnesota Valley Chorale. Above them, like at other JMP shows, was a large video screen. During the performance, footage from the many games of the Zelda franchise was displayed on the screen, periodically interlaced with real-time footage of the orchestra, this being the multimedia component to the concert.
Footage from the games was also displayed as the audience was being seated, along with prerecorded music from the series. I immediately found this to be a poor choice; instead of establishing an element of anticipatory atmosphere, it blurred the actual start of the concert and felt anticlimactic. (I personally would have preferred nothing on the screen, and perhaps environmental ambience from the games.) Some of the footage shown during seating was used during the actual performance as well, another disappointing element—building atmosphere matters, as does timing. What’s more, during the show, what was happening on screen rarely seemed to correlate to what was being performed aside from being game specific. Even that seemed unreliable; as an example, footage from Majora’s Mask was shown during the Ocarina of Time suite. None of the video felt cohesive or smooth, the editing was almost nonexistent, and there were several times where what appeared to be a technical problem (the screen turning into static) happened enough that it was likely just a poorly chosen transition screen. It wasn’t all bad, however—several of the game’s series creators and contributors made recorded appearances, my favorite parts of the show.
The idea of intersecting footage of the orchestra in along with the game footage was an excellent one, but it was not executed well. When the cameras cut to performers, they focused mainly on their faces from unflattering and strange angles instead of showing the actual instruments being played. It also did not help that most of the orchestra seemed to be concentrating so intently on reading their sheet music that it looked, and sounded, joyless.
— Nintendo Times (@NintendoTimes85) May 20, 2017
Multimedia experience aside, Symphony of the Goddesses was at its core a live musical performance, and unfortunately that is where it suffered the most. The opening piece was lethargic and muddy, feelings that persisted until after intermission. Songs that by their very composition should have been powerful, energetic and bombastic—of which there were many, most of them battle tunes—sounded sleepy and unsure. This may have been due to a technical sound issue, as the performance improved drastically as the show progressed, especially after intermission and with the three encore pieces being the strongest. But it was hard to tell, because as mentioned before, aside from a few performers (the first-chair violin being a notable example), the orchestra did not seem into the performance at all. The audience sure was, however: people cheered and whooped and screamed, laughed out loud, and fist pumped the air. There were several cosplayers, and every other person seemed to be wearing a Zelda T-shirt or hoodie.
This leads to a bit of a tangential point that I feel is worth at least mentioning. With the crossing of unconventional music into conventional spaces, it is apparent that audiences belonging to the former do not know how to behave in the later. People struggled to understand seating, or the etiquette of coming and going during live performances. Much of the audience was exceptionally rowdy and loud. Near me there was a group tossing popcorn at each other, yelling to their friends, and climbing over seats. While there is nothing wrong with being enthusiastic and excited, there is absolutely a way to do so without being disruptive or straight-out disrespectful.
When appealing to the strong nostalgia and emotional attachment an audience has to source material such as the Zelda franchise, does the quality of the performance matter? Or is it simply about, well, nostalgic fun? Will an audience forgive a lackluster performance simply on the merits of source material? That seemed to be the case here; where my companion and myself were not impressed, most of the audience seemed to love every moment.
The Zelda franchise’s impressive, decade-spanning successes show no signs of slowing, and it perhaps owes that very success to the formulaic predictability of its games. While the games have never been a thing of complexity or depth, they are reliably fun; they are entertaining and endearing in their simplicity, with moments of genuine cleverness peppered throughout. If Symphony of the Goddesses was meant to be a tribute to 30 years of The Legend of Zelda and what the series is at its core, just simple formulaic fun without a lot of substance, then I’d call it a success for those willing to be forgiving for the sake of nostalgia. For those seeking a musical performance that excels on its own merits, another adventure awaits elsewhere.