Heinrich Marschner's dramatic opera "The Vampire" is a wondrous patchwork of extraordinarily prophetic music, blood-chilling melodrama and bucolic charm.
Presented Thursday night at the Madeira School by the Wolf Trap Opera Training Program, it will be repeated there tonight. It is well worth the trip.
The auditorium works very well for the imaginative production directed by Sarah Caldwell. In her customary fashion, she uses side aisles and entrances and even the orchestra pit area in front of the stage. This space is too small for the substantial orchestra required for Marschner's score, so Caldwell placed the musicians behind a scrim at the back of the stage where their 40-watt light bulbs add to the ghostly effect of the coffin-strewn playing area. In the pit, she constructed a hand-operated hoist into which the Vampire sinks with his victims, and from which their whited corpses later rise.
The stage effects -- devised by a skilled team of Esquire Jauchem and Chic Silber, vastly enhanced by the lighting of Gilbert Hemsley -- include great clouds of fog and a moon that shifts in the best eerie manner from ghastly white to blood red. Added touches include bats flying about, streaks of lightning and bursts of thunder and now and then a howling dog. (Although the lightning that finally dispatches the Vampire failed to strike at the proper moment and place Thursday night, he went ahead and died on schedule like any good trouper.)
Marschner's music, which is the central element of the opera, stands directly between Weber's "Freischuetz," whose Wolf Glen scene it continually recalls, and Wagner's "Flying Dutchman," whose opening aria, "Die Frist ist um," is completely foreshadowed in the Vampire's entrance scene.
The brilliant vocal writing, superbly designed for both solo and choral voices, includes a wonderful male quintet with soprano over some of the most imaginative instrumental effects of the opera.
Any opera with the solid musical substance of "The Vampire" -- and that is as unfamiliar as Marschner's work -- requires a conductor of real skills both in style and orchestral technique. Fred Scott proved the master of the entire work and drew admirable playing from a very good orchestra.
The demands on the leading singers are heavy. For the most part the singers in this production are still in the learning stages. While Roger Wangerin in the leading role did wonders in the highly colored demands of the acting, his singing is not yet at the point where he can make the best effect in a part that cries out for a George London. In smaller roles Neil Nease and Stephanie Friede were very well placed, as were two of the tenors in the smaller ensemble. This is a rare opportunity to see and hear a work often discussed but seldom presented, and this production may just start quite a run on operatic vampires. p