Hearing David Clenny's opera "La Contesse dei Vampiri" at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater on Monday night, one knew instantly what would have happened had Dracula met Donizetti. Alternatively, set the "Rocky Horror Picture Show" to music by Giuseppe Verdi -- or rather Clenny's hilarious imitation of Verdi and other 19th-century composers -- and you begin to see why "Vampiri" might have been considered a masterpiece had it been written in 1835, and why it stands every chance of being a full-blooded hit today.
Clenny's passions for vampire lore and bel canto opera mesh beautifully in this work. He throws together a perfectly silly plot wherein the bride-to-be loses her betrothed to the clutches of a vampire contesse and wins him back by killing her, and peppers the whole with a bunch of very, very good tunes.
Monday night's spoof, a benefit concert for the Handel Festival Orchestra, had all the right ingredients: fast-paced action, comic relief that relied heavily on intentionally scrawny singing and an equally comic orchestra consisting of one lone synthesizer player, Bruno Casolari, whom festival conductor Stephen Simon gamely directed from the orchestra pit.
The star -- or rather starlet -- of the show was Clenny, who, no doubt due to the current world shortage of burly vampire countertenors, sang the title role of Contesse Leonora di Sangue himself. With as much glitter around his eyes as in his voice, he cheerfully hammed the part for all it was worth and got as many laughs for his riotous appearance as he did for his sendup of bel canto singing.
The supporting cast was equally strong. Lyric coloratura Marianne Wells, who sang the role of Lucia the jilted bride, screeched her top F; Kathryn Chase, who played the role of Mina, Lucia's sister, was as memorable for her powerful soprano voice as for her sherry drinking; and light tenor John Nelson had little problem milking the role of Giovanni, the saved-from-a-fate-worse-than-death betrothed. Larry Asher too deserves special mention. As the blind priest Padre Cleto , he teetered on physical disaster at every turn.
But it was the music that ultimately won the hearts of the audience, and it is to Clenny that the kudos should go.