Student actors shine in The Vampire

Although Halloween is still a week away, some St. Olaf students recently donned medieval costumes, British accents and smears of fake blood for the performances of The Vampire, which ran Oct. 14-16. The opera was the first of the season for St. Olaf Lyric Theater, a company run by the St. Olaf Music Department and led by Professor of Music James McKeel.

The Vampire was written in 1828 by German playwright Heinrich Marschner. The Lyric Theater performed an adaptation tailored for modern audiences by John J. King of Boston, with song lyrics in everyday language and names modeled after Twilight characters. The St. Olaf production cut out parts of the script to make the show appropriate for audiences of all ages.

The play opened with Lord Collins, played by Harrison Hintzsche ’16, entering a vampire clan’s meeting, led by Aro (Vivian Williams ’16). Collins desired immortality as a vampire and agreed to the conditions that he must bite 29 young women in 29 days, before the next full moon.

The plot proceeded to center on Collins’ efforts to fulfill his mission. Myrtle Lemon ’17 played his first victim, Lucy; she was subjected to his charms and responded with dramatic arias of indecision before finally giving in to the vampire’s seduction. The rest of the cast stepped in to lament her death and express their fear of a bloodsucker on the loose. As Collins preyed on women daily, the pattern of seduction, death and remorse was repeated and highlighted by outstanding songs full of emotion that kept the performance engaging and saved it from being repetitive.

Miller LaMonte ’17 directed and conducted the music ensemble, accompanied by pianist and music coach Jared Miller ’18. The music score complemented the play beautifully, performed by the strong voices of the student vocalists, many of whom are majoring in Vocal Music Performance.

Audiences were invited to reflect on gender roles as the opera unfolded. The relationship between Collin’s assistant, Jonathan Parker (Nick Swanson ’16) and Della Swan (Samantha Noonan ’17), displayed the tension between men’s expectations and women’s freedom. As the plot developed, Parker finally realized that “a woman is not a husband’s/father’s property; a man’s got to treat her properly,” as the whole cast belted in an upbeat group number which was endearing, albeit somewhat kitschy.

The Vampire also challenged the traditional concepts of sexuality by casting Aro as a female married to Jane (Katie Jonza ’17). While the relationship between these two characters remained fairly unaddressed, it contained plenty of jesting, adding more direct, playful humor to the indirect irony of the play.

“[John King’s] adaptation of The Vampire was meant to be a parody of Twilight, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and all that. The plot’s not similar, but it is still poking fun at them,” Jonza said.Collins grabbed the spotlight for most of the show as a misguided businessman, gaining both sympathy and contempt from the audience. His foil Muffy, perhaps the most notable woman in the play, played by Erica Hoops ’18, entered after the first act as a fiery vampire killer with a personal vendetta against vampires (sound familiar?). She emanated determination and independence, appearing as a headstrong feminist way ahead of the times.

Despite only having five short weeks to rehearse the opera before opening night, the cast appeared very well-prepared and put on a quality show. The only aspect that took away from the aesthetic was the challenging, extended set changes the actors had to complete between scenes. Seeing them out of character for such a period of time provided unwelcome breaks in the flow of the opera that could have been easily solved by using a stage crew or more manageable set design. Nonetheless, the merit of the vocal and theatrical performances gave plenty of entertainment that all audiences could sink their teeth into.

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