Revamped *Cough* Vampire Comedy for Modernity: DER VAMPYR

Photo © OperaHub

Presented by OperaHub
1828 music by Heinrich Marschner
1828 German libretto by Wilhelm August Wohlbrück
1828 libretto based on the play Der Vampir oder die Totenbraut by Heinrich Ludwig Ritter
2014 arrangement by Moshe Shulman
2014 libretto by John J King
Music direction by Lina Marcel Gonzalez
Stage direction by Christie Lee Gibson

June 19 – 28, 2014
Boston Center for the Arts
Plaza Theatre
Boston, MA

Review by Kitty Drexel

Trigger warnings: Light smut, Feminism

(Boston) Der Vampyr is a decadently feminist adaptation of Marschner’s original. This new arrangement presented by OperaHub tackles the difficult truths of male entitlement, victim blaming and rape culture that all women face on a daily basis. If you, the reader, do not believe in gender equality, this opera is not for you. If you believe that rape culture is not a pervasive truth all women face, then this opera is not for you. It would be best if you pulled your fedora over your eyes and stopped reading this review now.

The original Der Vampyr is based on the short novel, The Vampyre, by John Polidori. Polidori’s novelette was first adapted into a French play in 1820. Marschner had a go at it in 1828. The current version remains true to Marschner’s work but has been edited down and then expanded upon to appeal to modern theatre-goers. It has been arranged by Moshe Shulman for 6 piece chamber orchestra and adapted by John J. King for maximum spoof hilarity. Together they have revived a tired work into the 21st Century. Der Vampyr is relatable, singable, and very entertaining.

Before the opera starts, the audience is treated to a helpful slideshow of vampire pop culture facts and conventions. King cites many vampiric media sources in his libretto. For the uninitiated, this slideshow is extremely helpful in understanding why everyone else is laughing so hard. We were laughing from the moment the cast stole the stage during the overture. Among the referenced are Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the god awful Twilight series, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Bela Lugosi, Frank Langella, and the vast treasury of paranormal-romance smut haunting bookshelves (including mine *wink*). There are a lot of bad books, movies, fanfic, etc. written about vampires. King takes them all and weaves them into vocab-rich, comedic gold.

There is a stereotype that opera singers cannot act. Anyone who says this has never seen this cast at work. With the exception of one male chorus member who was so firmly on another planet that he inappropriately stole focus, the entire cast was expressive and fluid in their character work. Performers of note: Tamara Ryan (Della) has an effortless soprano has expressed juvenile naivete even as she demands personhood from her father played by Justin Hicks (Swann); Lindsay Conrad (Muffy) is spunky as she defends London with her cunning and slices through evil with her warm soprano. But of course, the day and night goes to Jacob Cooper as Nedward B. Collins. He has the austerity of Anton Walbrook and the timing of Marty Feldman’s younger cousin who spent a lot of time with him on the set. His voice isn’t bad either. His performance is so strong as the cruel, yet empathetic Collins is an inspiration.

For the singers: there are wonderful pieces in this revamp (do you see what I did there?) that would be perfect for recital or audition use. There are arias for bass, mezzo, soprano and tenor that are delightfully colorful and give plenty of opportunities for character development. The Act 1, scene  4 trio is heavenly. The vocal lines display clarity of tone as 3 characters deliver separate intentions.

With the exception of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the vast majority of popular vampire media is about a dude blood sucker manipulating a human woman (into his bed). This flat female stock character is then saved by human men or “good” vampires. By applying feminism to Der Vampyr, female characters get to participate in the actual plot development. For example, in Dracula, Mina could easily be replaced by a sexy lamp and the story would continue uninhibited. In the King/Shulman production, the opera couldn’t end happily without the addition of Muffy the Vampire Naysayer. While there is no way to avoid treating most of the female characters as set pieces without dismantling Ritter’s original libretto, the addition of Muffy means that women are represented as different kinds of people versus dated stereotypes. Adding Muffy also brings to life a fantasy that many Buffy lovers have dreamed of since hyped marketing of Twilight began.

The elements that make Der Vampyr a true success are the combination of the cast’s understanding that the libretto is a tongue-in-cheek homage to the vampire genre, King’s vocab rich libretto and Lina Marcel Gonzalez’s generous attention to the vocalists (seriously, she conducts as if she were called by God to give cues). This is how opera should be done (with the exception of the overwhelmingly loud “park and bark” moments in both finales that left audience ears numb). Bravi tutti to the cast and crew!

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