Opera meets cult film: Hercules vs. VampiresReview
In a special, one-night only event, Nashville Opera presented Patrick Morganelli’s Hercules vs. Vampires, an opera he composed to partner with the 1961 B-horror film Hercules in the Haunted World, directed by Mario Bava. The evening was a charming departure from what we think is “traditional” opera: ticket holders were encouraged to dress up in costumes to match the spooky theme of the opera, to react organically during the piece, and to generally be a bit less stuffy than normal. Additionally, Nashville Opera priced the tickets modestly, making the opera more accessible to attend. Director John Hoomes chose to cast mostly young singers, several from its Mary Ragland Emerging Artists program, and many of whom made their Nashville Opera debuts in Hercules.
The plot of Hercules in the Haunted World isn’t un-operatic: Hercules must save his love, Princess Dianara, from some mystery illness so that she can ascend to her throne. To do that, he must - per an oracle (obviously) - complete a series of bizarre tasks and fight Dianara’s villainous uncle. While the extreme campiness of the film also lends itself to the opera, the film lacks real monologues - and thus Hercules vs. Vampires lacks real arias. With that, Morganelli wrote a lot of recit against his modernist, cinematic score, making Hercules vs. Vampires a good venue to feature young singers, but the monotony is not a great match for pacing.
The film was projected on a big screen in Nashville’s Jackson Hall at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center, with the cast, dressed in concert black, seated onstage when not singing. The standout performance was given by baritone Connor McDonald, singing the role of Hercules, whose robust voice filled the hall with a clear, glimmery richness that lends itself to modern opera. Even though he was not the focal point - that was the film itself - he committed to acting the role, making him a delight to watch as well. Other commendable performances include sopranos Emily Tweedy and Melissa Shippen, who both sang several roles, and tenor Brian Skoog who sang Herc’s best friend, Theseus.
The audience (a mélange of regular opera-goers and cult-film buffs) clearly enjoyed themselves, and it felt like attendees welcomed the opportunity to experience live opera in a different way, or maybe even for the first time. Nashville Opera excitingly tends to program works that push the boundaries of the discipline, and this performance was no exception.