Sunday, July 25, 2021

The Lord of Cries.

 I may have mentioned that this summer is shaping up to be a summer of vampires. The Atherton Vampire is live now at Amazon and on the Kindle app for iOS devices in the United States, and many thanks to those of you who have taken a look at Jerry's story so far. In addition, I'm in the midst of writing the second novella in the series. And last weekend, I saw the world premiere of The Lord of Cries, an opera based partly on Bram Stoker's classic novel Dracula, at the Santa Fe Opera.

I'm not a massive opera fan, but I've seen a number of them over the years. This one intrigued me not only because of the subject matter, but because librettist Mark Adamo has written a mashup of Stoker's story with that of  The Bacchae, a tragedy written by Euripedes that had its own premiere in 405 BCE. Adamo has been quoted as saying he was intrigued by Dracula's status as an outsider in Victorian London, which seemed to him to  correspond pretty neatly with Dionysus's status in The Bacchae

For those of you who haven't read the play, I'll recap: Dionysus is the Greek god of wine and wine-making, revelry, and religious ecstasy. His father was Zeus; his mother, Semele, was mortal. The kingdom of Thebes, under the rule of King Penthius, has forsworn his worship -- supposedly because he's not really a god due to his mixed parentage, but really because all the women in the kingdom, who are dubbed the Bacchae, are following him into hedonism. Dionysus wants Thebes to recognize him as a god, so he appears before Penthius as a stranger who supports the god's claim. Alas, Penthius cannot be swayed, so Dionysus decides to teach him a lesson -- one that leads to Penthius's destruction.

To get the Dracula tale to fit the bones of The Bacchae, Adamo made some key changes. He rolled Mina Harker and Lucy Westenra into a single character: Lucy Harker, wife of Jonathan Harker. In the novel, Jonathan comes back from Dracula's castle with his mind intact, but in the opera, he has been driven mad with, y'know, lust and stuff by Dracula's three vampire women. Also in the novel, Van Helsing is the main vampire hunter -- but here he's demoted to assisting John Seward, the head of Carfax Asylum and (because reasons) the de facto mayor of London. Seward is determined to do his duty and save London from Dracula, and that means denying his passion for Lucy. We discover that Lucy is also crazy about John, but she must do her duty and tend to her husband -- who, by the way, was driven insane because of the warring desires within his own soul. 

Into all this drama strides Dionysus in the guise of Dracula himself. He intends to wake up Victorian Londoners to the dangers of denying their baser instincts and desires in the service of "doing good", because that way, literally, lies madness. Neither Seward nor Lucy will abandon what they perceive as their duty, and so they are destroyed.

A lot has been made over the years of Stoker's setting for his novel. The Victorian era seethed with sexual repression, and literary critics have long seen Dracula as a target for fear and disgust because he challenged Victorian notions of propriety.

Of course, Adamo uses that. But what interests me, as a modern-day Pagan, is the vehicle he chooses for the message: a pagan god. In our present era, in which conservatives are fighting to repress social progress of all sorts, it's heartening to hear someone say that the pagans had it right.


These moments of bloggy ecstasy and ruin have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Get vaxxed!

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