The 1961 film “Hercules In The Haunted World” would be a perfect choice for the show "Mystery Science Theater 3000."
Yet “Hercules in the Haunted World” has a lot of serious fans. Many think the movie’s Italian director, Mario Bava, was a hugely influential filmmaker — and his “Hercules” movie was incredibly ambitious for its time, in terms of its look, special effects and underworld plot.
Rather than hold it up for ridicule, composer Patrick Morganelli used “Hercules in the Haunted World” as the basis for an opera called “Hercules vs. Vampires." The production was originally commissioned in Portland, Oregon back in 2010, but its now headed to the L.A. Opera April 23-26.
Audiences will see the movie projected on stage, but instead of the dubbed dialogue and original score, they will hear Morganelli’s score and English-language libretto performed by a live orchestra and opera singers.
Morganelli stopped by The Frame to talk about why Mario Bava is important, the difficulty of adapting the film for the stage and why he rewrote part of the score specifically for the L.A. performance.
What makes director Mario Bava so influential?
One of the amazing things about Mario Bava was that because he was originally a cinematographer, he had an amazing sense of how to light a scene, how to frame it...when he stepped up to become a director he was really able to bring this visual sense to it. Specifically what we see in this particular film is he shot it in anamorphic widescreen, which of course looks spectacular for a low-budget film like that. The color composition of it, and in particular roughly a third of the film takes place in Hades. The scenes in Hades are beyond belief.
On staying true to the original story:
I stuck as close as I could to the story of the film. I didn't want to start doing things that were going to not really make sense with the picture. The difficulty there is that in taking film dialogue and creating an operatic libretto out of it, you have not only artistic issues of how do you condense everything into fewer words, but artistically they have to be words that are singable when you put all that together and then try and match that up with the actual mouth movements of the screen — it was technically quite difficult.
On what will be different between the L.A. performance and the original in Portland, Oregon:
First of all, I have a larger orchestra here, and I wanted to take advantage of that. The production in Portland really was very well done, but I didn't know any of the people — in particular I didn't know anyone in the orchestra, so I was really very conservative with the score. When I realized that L.A. Opera was going to do this, I did a major revision to the score where I revised all of the orchestration to take advantage of the orchestra that we have down here and the amount of rehearsal time that we were going to have down here. There is roughly 10 minutes of the score that I completely replaced, because I was not that happy with it, up in Portland, with the composition itself. I thought this is a good time for me to take another stab at trying to get it right