It might seem dangerous to see Marschner’s opera Der Vampyr (The Vampire) on a full moon, but we lived to tell the tale.
Der Vampyr was staged by Summer Opera Lyric Theatre and Research Centre (aka “SOLT”). While SOLT offers training for advanced performers, these productions are also invaluable to the opera-going community, another opportunity to see an unfamiliar opera courtesy of SOLT Artistic Director Guillermo Silva-Marin, who regularly offers rarities in his other incarnation as AD of Opera in Concert (for example La Vida Breve & Louise last season).
Der Vampyr is a fascinating study, a work premiered in 1828 that hasn’t managed to catch on. In places it’s similar to other operas, other music. At times I felt we were listening to Schubert’s “Erlkonig”, both in the unfolding of the music and in the telling of a story that is very melodramatic. Perhaps that was how story-tellers built suspense and created fear in the listener in the early 19th century. To a modern viewer? it’s a charming relic.
The subject fascinates me as I prepare to teach a course called “Theatres of Terror: Gothic Horror in Music, Opera and Film.” Watching Der Vampyr¸one sees the continuity with other works of the time, such as Weber’s Der Freischütz and Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman. I remember hearing in a course that Wagner supposedly listened closely to Marschner even if the dramatic styles of the two works are very different.
The cast were mostly professional sounding, including a wonderful contest of wills between the two men, namely baritone Andrey Andreychik as Lord Ruthven the vampire, struggling with tenor Cian Horrobin as Sir Edgar Aubry. It’s fascinating to observe the vocal writing of a transitional work such as Der Vampyr, noticing how both the tenor & baritone seem to be in transition from lighter roles in earlier operas, pointing unmistakably to the heavier roles to follow. One of the advantages of playing in the Robert Gill Theatre with a piano –instead of an opera house accompanied by orchestra—is that it’s not quite so taxing for the young singers.
The vampire stories we see in films of the last century aren’t so different from Der Vampyr, with erotic tension at the heart of the story. There are three young women, two of whom are victimized by Ruthven. Each of these speak of forbidden pleasures, while the third, who shows a more properly Christian outlook, is saved.
Maria H.Y. Jung led a tight performance from the piano, playing the score with bold dynamics. Silva-Marin’s direction was suspenseful throughout.
SOLT will also be presenting von Flotow’s Martha and Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos in rotation with Der Vampyr this weekend & next at the Robert Gill Theatre. Click the logo (below) for more information.