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North Carolina Opera’s Hercules vs. Vampires Combines B-Movies and Baritones

herculesvsvampiresposter-ncopera2016

The Rocky Horror Picture Show introduced moviegoers to audience participation in the late 1970s and Mystery Science Theater 3000 brought the snark to television in the late 1980s, morphing into RiffTrax in 2006.

Essentially, mocking B-movies is not entirely new. The “No talking during the feature” rule has been broken before. But Patrick Morganelli and the North Carolina Opera re-broke it.

Commissioned by the Opera Theatre Oregon in 2010, Hercules vs. Vampires premiered in March 2010, and was restaged in 2015 by the Los Angeles Opera. A companion piece to the 1961 Italian sword-and-sandal fantasy film Hercules in the Haunted World, this work integrates a fully composed concert opera and a screening of the Mario Bava film.

The original soundtrack is removed and replaced with Morganelli’s score and English language libretto — adapted from the English translation of the film. In foreign-film tradition — and operatic tradition — the translation is up on the screen.

The score — which took six months of development — is not influenced by the film’s campy qualities. Rather, it channels Ravel and Ligeti, opting for a dramatic, traditional operatic flavor. The juxtaposition of the exquisite music against the B-movie backdrop is what makes it work so well. The mismatch of the lyrics and the film actors’ mouths is uproarious.

Morganelli avoids the clich├ęs presented by the film (there are no blaring trumpets or any Dance of the Seven Veils-styled business), and the film’s unintentional humor came crashing through the concert hall where many laughs were earned — a rare sound from an opera audience.

The array of talented vocalists and musicians, conducted by Shawn Galvin — curator of New Music Raleigh — helped maintain the integrity of the score. Scott Macleod’s demigod-like baritone perfectly matched the film’s Hercules (British bodybuilder Reg Park); whereas Vanessa Becerra applied her strong soprano to a number of epic female characters. Adrian Smith synced his baritone with Lycos, portrayed by Christopher Lee on screen, giving the piece its most sinister character. The orchestra was second-to-none.

While there were a few lulls in intensity (even Patrick Morganelli’s score cannot always save the uninteresting storyline), Mario Bava’s lush cinematography keeps things visually engaging for the majority of the concert. Laughter and campy fun was had by all — opera aficionados and B-movie geeks alike.

The North Carolina Opera performed Patrick Morganelli's score for <em>Hercules vs. Vampires</em> on Oct. 30th

The North Carolina Opera performed Patrick Morganelli’s score for Hercules vs. Vampires on Oct. 30th

SECOND OPINION: Oct. 31st Raleigh, NC CVNC review by Ken Hoover: http://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=8198; Oct. 28th Raleigh, NC Time Warner Cable News 14 interview with composer Patrick Morganelli, conducted by Caroline Blair: http://www.twcnews.com/nc/triangle-sandhills/in-depth-interview/2016/10/28/in-depth–hercules-vs–vampires-opera.html; Oct. 28th Chapel Hill, NC WUNC/91.5 FM interview with composer Patrick Morganelli and singers Vanessa Becerra and Scott Macleod, with live accompaniment by pianist Danielle DeSwert Hahn, conducted by Frank Stasio for “The State of Things”: http://wunc.org/post/hercules-versus-vampires#stream/0; Oct. 26th Durham, NC Indy Week preview by Allison Hussey: http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/in-hercules-vs-vampires-a-mythic-hero-embarks-on-an-operatic-adventure-with-bloodsuckers-and-other-beasts/Content?oid=5080419; and Oct. 23rd Raleigh, NC News & Observer preview by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/arts-culture/article108986697.html; and Sept. 30th mini-preview by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/arts-culture/article104977596.html.

HERCULES VS. VAMPIRES (North Carolina Opera, Oct. 30 in Meymandi Concert Hall in Raleigh).

SHOW: http://www.ncopera.org/performances/hercules-vs–vampires and https://www.facebook.com/events/1055916617824344/.

PRESENTER: http://www.ncopera.org/, https://www.facebook.com/NorthCarolinaOpera, and https://twitter.com/ncopera.

VENUE: http://www.dukeenergycenterraleigh.com/venue/meymandi-concert-hall.

[RUN HAS CONCLUDED.]

EDITOR’S NOTE:

Dustin K. Britt is a Triangle native, holds a master’s degree in special education from East Carolina University, and teaches locally. He can be spotted all over the Triangle area either painting scenery or chewing o n it. He has received local theater award nominations for doing both. He is a devoted cinephile and author of Hold the Popcorn, a movie blog on Facebook. Click here to read his reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment He can also be found via his official Facebook page and on Twitter @dkbritt85.

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