Sunday, June 22, 2014

vampire opera

I just went to a vampire opera.

No, I am not making this up.

Tammy Ryan, who plays a lead role, Della, is someone I have known for a number of years now.  I remember her staying with us when she was auditioning for things when she was in college.  I've watched and enjoyed Facebook photos.  This was the first time, however, that I've heard her sing! That is, if you don't count hymns in chapel.  And let's just say there aren't many high D's in The Hymnal 1982.

I enjoyed it very much.

The music is from the 1828 "gothic opera" by Heinrich Marschner.  It's big music, the kind of music most people think of when they think of opera. Reminded me of Wagner (and therefore Bugs Bunny and "kill the wabbit" on an epic scale, but never mind). Well done. I appreciated having real musicians playing (piano, violin, and brass, if I remember correctly).

Here's a big performance of another version in New Orleans, a much larger setting than this tiny minimalist one.  It looks nothing like what I saw, but you can hear the music:

And then there's the new libretto.  I can't tell you how many times I laughed out loud.  Not all of the lines in it are something I'd type out on a blog, but it's fun and fabulous.  Occasionally the juxtaposition of such lines with such music made it even funnier.  And I appreciated the nods to Monty Python and Buffy the Vampire-Slayer, too.  Wonder what other references I missed, not being up on my Anne Rice or current television series and movies... Of course, you can't hear all the words when you have three different characters singing different words at the same time, so there were parts I missed. I'd love to find a written copy at some point.

The basic storyline, modified from the original to the point that it's almost a different story, is that of a man who wants to join a group of London vampires. He's looking for power and immortality, though he certainly does enjoy preying on young women as a way to get it.  Apparently vampires need to seduce them first before imbibing, or it doesn't count? I was a bit at a loss here, again being somewhat ignorant as vampire traditions go.  In any case, once bitten himself, this man has to kill 29 young women over 29 days in order to be fully a member.  Think gang ritual initiation.

Meanwhile, Tammy's character, Della (SPOILER ALERT!) dumps her fiance because he and her father are deciding her future without even consulting her.

Add bar scenes, various lovers' spats, and a Buffy-style Muffy who tries unsuccessfully to kill off the vampire herself.  Fast forward to the end and add a masked costume ball.  So far, so good, certainly the stuff of opera.

What this new libretto also does, along with making people laugh, is make some very pointed statements about women not being treated as men's property and about the way people tend to blame the victim.  Well, that tart shouldn't have been out alone at night. She was asking for it. What do you expect. Too familiar to contemporary ears.

It also made the point that Della's fiance isn't as holy as he thinks he is given that he has stood by and done nothing up until the point when Della is threatened.  What, none of these other women matter? ...and so all we so-called innocent bystanders share some of the guilt for things that happen if we do nothing when we could do something.

No, it doesn't quite spell it out in such very small words, but nearly, mostly through the humor.

To summarize: 19th century London, including costumes, but a current sensibility.  (If you've read any Amelia Peabody Egyptology mysteries, it's a somewhat similar combination.)

It was well done, it was fun, and I would have been glad to be there even if I hadn't had the extra enjoyment of finally seeing and hearing Tammy on stage. I love being surrounded by music, performed live.  Time well spent.

Any of you who live in the Boston area and might be interested, go have some fun! There are four performances left: Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday of this week. Tickets are to be had online here: They are free, with donations encouraged (which is why I could go).  It's at the Boston Center for the Arts' Plaza Theater on Tremont Street.

Finally, here is a not-very-good homemade video of it I just found on YouTube. The performance and set have improved since this taping, I must say (must have been a rehearsal), but it will give you a better idea:

For more information: 
OperaHub Announces: DER VAMPYR

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