An operatic twist on a classic tale is making its way to the stage and it comes with a bite. The fickle fanged creature that is Dracula is set for its world premiere on Feb. 15th in Cambridge, ON before heading to Waterloo and Guelph.
Composer and Artistic Director of Vera Causa Opera, Dylan Langan, created the piece, inspired by its timeless story and the ability to share a unique look on the dark tale. Choosing a piece like Dracula allows for great flexibility when it comes to casting, something Vera Causa Opera is keen on.
The all-inclusive, community-based company has a mission to provide young artists with the opportunity to perform existing ‘old’ operas and be involved with the composition of new ones. Dracula will provide artists and audience members with an introduction to opera through a story people already know from the novel or film.
Langan doesn’t stride far from the original story but adds his own modern twist. The novel by Bram Stoker inspired a play in 1924 which then sparked the famous 1931 American film starring Bela Lugosi. Most of Langan’s inspiration for the opera came from the film.
“The movie allowed the theatrical elements to shine and had the best elements [from which] an opera could be born,” he says.
What remains is the symbolism around the idea of making a deal with the devil, says Langan. Dracula remains a villainous creature but there’s also a balance, including a lovers duet that may make the title character more sympathetic and distract from the fact that Dracula is still a devilish figure. His power over everyone is still on a high scale and his captivating mannerisms may even hold sway over the audience!
When dealing with such an iconic story there is an element of great responsibility. For Langan, “responsibility is to be educated and aware” of what you’re working with and what you’re creating. This has involved some adjustments. For instance, the roles of Renfield and Professor Van Helsing are played as pants roles (women singers playing male roles).
In keeping with the company’s inclusive mandate, 12 singers play maids who also fall under Dracula’s spell (and are also his many wives). They also appear as extras in other scenes yet, as Langan says, are assigned some of the trickiest music since they’re a constant presence popping in and out of scenes.
With the many tellings of this tale, there’s a recognition how much the original story has changed, not just with this production but in all of its adaptations. The book is based in letters, that is, in text that wasn’t meant to be spoken. As Langan points out, letters are inner thoughts sent to another person, not scenes laid out for plot development.
“It’s unrealistic to think we can stick to the letters” he said, “there has to be flexibility in adapting such an old tale. The key is to be flexible.”
Langan describes his score as not too complex with “moments of surprising beauty.”
It’s levitating and comedic, but still has its “cryptic” and “crunchy” moments.
“It’s Dracula. If he’s going to be biting into people then the music should bite into us.”
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