Ghouls, monsters, and other creatures abound this time of year, and this weekend, they make their way to Meymandi Concert Hall for N.C. Opera's adventurous presentation of Hercules vs. Vampires. The company started its 2016–17 season strong in September with Wagner's Das Rheingold, but Los Angeles composer Patrick Morganelli's work veers in a decidedly less traditional direction.
The basis of the program is director Mario Bava's cult sword-and-sandals film from 1961, Hercules in the Haunted World, which is screened behind the production's singers. The epic hero must save his Princess Deinira, who has lost her mind in an unspecified way, recalling Ghostbusters' spirit-stricken Dana in "only Zuul" mode. The villain, Lico, wants to drink her blood to usurp her power.
The piece began as a commission for the Portland Symphony, which premiered it in 2010; Morganelli revised it for a 2015 iteration with a larger orchestra in Los Angeles. Sunday's show in Raleigh is its East Coast premiere. The city might not be on most people's minds as an opera destination, but Morganelli says that N.C. Opera's programming speaks for itself beyond state lines.
"Once upon a time, even though you always had some very serious operas, opera was very much considered entertainment. North Carolina Opera really understands that," Morganelli says. "They want to produce the great, serious works and do them extremely well. But they understand that opera should also be entertainment, and it shouldn't be a homework assignment for people."
N.C. Opera's artistic and creative director, Tim Myers, tapped his friend Shawn Galvin to conduct the production. Galvin co-leads New Music Raleigh and has participated in most of of N.C. Opera's performances since he moved to the Triangle in 2008. But Hercules vs. Vampires finds Galvin conducting the N.C. Opera for the first time, a position he says is a natural extension of his investment in new works by living composers.
As Galvin points out, it's common for orchestras and other institutions to re-create film scores alongside movies—in fact, Duke Performances is doing so Saturday night with Alejandro Iñárritu's Birdman (see p. 29). But Morganelli's feat, Galvin says, reaches another level of artistry, with an entirely new score and libretto that precisely matches the film's action from moment to moment.
"Part of the brilliance of what Patrick did with this score is that he meticulously timed the live vocal parts that you'll hear in the performance to exactly when the actors in the original film are opening their mouths," Galvin says.
"It was far and away, technically, the most difficult project I've ever worked on," Morganelli adds.
The film itself is a strange, visually striking romp through ancient Greece and the underworld, and the era's practical effects add another level of intrigue and comedy to Hercules's plot. If it's not quite a tale for the ages, it's a good one for a Sunday afternoon.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Vampire Weekend"