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The Story of Nosferatu


The Setting – the action of the opera takes place in the Baltic seaport of Wisborg in the mid 19th century.

The Counting House
(A counting house is an office or building where important documents are kept.) Heinrich Skuller is an elderly, peculiar businessman and moneylender, who has just read a letter with great interest. He summons a young man, Eric, whom he knows is married and desperate for a job. Skuller explains that a wealthy nobleman—Count Orlock of Hungary—wants to buy a place in Wisborg that he can renovate, so Skuller purchased an old estate for the Count. Eric’s job is to travel to Hungary immediately and make the sale to the Count, for which Eric can keep half the proceeds. This could also lead to a business partnership with Skuller. Eric is reluctant; the house is in ruin, and he doesn’t want to leave his wife Ellen, who is not well. Skuller persuades Eric to make the journey in order to provide for his wife and to secure his dreams of financial security.

The Dream
Dr. Harding and Ellen’s sister Marthe are in Eric and Ellen’s apartment speaking softly about Ellen’s condition while she recovers from another night of nightmares and sleepwalking. Eric enters and exclaims the news of his employment, but as the job is described, Marthe pleads for Eric not to leave his wife in her delicate condition. Ellen awakes and tells Eric of her dream of Eric being sacrificed on an altar. Eric dismisses her dream and insists he must take the job for their benefit; Dr. Harding adds that Ellen can be cared for in Eric’s absence. Eric and Ellen pledge their undying love and unity and, before he departs, Ellen places around his neck a locket with her portrait inside.

The Castle
Attended by servants, Eric has been waiting all afternoon in the Count’s dining hall. Eric looks longingly at the locket and wishes he had not left Ellen. At sunset Orlock finally appears. He is a gracious host. Eric begins his sales pitch, but the Count just wants to sign the purchase contract, as he plans to depart for Wisborg tomorrow. The castle and the land of his ancestors are in decay, the count explains. Eric shows his locket to the Count, who soon becomes obsessed with the portrait of Ellen. Count Orlock begins to cast a spell over Eric, but as Eric is about to succumb, he calls out for Ellen, who then becomes psychically connected to Eric and to the Count. Ellen and the Count communicate telepathically, and they each call to Eric to come to them, but Eric can only hear the Count, and surrenders to the Count’s bite. Ellen realizes Eric is lost, but the Count allows Eric to live as his gift to Ellen, whom he now plans to claim as his bride.

The Arrival
Ellen is at the harbor of Wisborg wishing upon the evening star for Eric’s safe return. Skuller arrives. Has he any word of Eric? It’s been three months. Skuller tries to reassure her, but Ellen leaves, and he is glad to see her go. He is nervously excited, for “tonight at last the master comes.” A ship comes into view. It has no name; only Orlock (Nosferatu) stands at the prow, looking youthful and strong. He tells Skuller that he has not come to rest at his new home, but to establish a new domain worthy of his ancestors. Rats have scurried off the ship, and servants appear to remove two coffins filled with dirt. As he will do every midnight until she invites him into her arms, Nosferatu sings to Ellen that he—the undead—is her destiny.

The Plague
Ellen and Martha are on their way to Dr. Harding’s sanitarium to visit Eric. They hear a chorus singing the Dies Irae (Day of Wrath) from the Mass for the Dead, but it’s not the usual Gregorian chant melody established by the church. Martha comments that this judgment day must not be of God; that the plague arrived in Wisborg on the death ship that drifted into the harbor with its dead crew. At the sanitarium Dr. Harding greets the sisters and brings out Eric, accompanied by Skuller, who is now also an inmate. Eric believes the sanitarium is his mansion and that the inmates are his servants (though not very good ones). He sings to Ellen of his adventures while away, revealing his delusion, and pleads with her to live with him as man and wife. Eric is taken away, and Skuller returns, now alone with Ellen. He asks when she will respond to her nightly calls from Nosferatu. “Never,” she replies, and vows to defeat Nosferatu. Skuller whispers how that could be done: if she were able to hold the Count spellbound until dawn, the daylight would destroy him. Skuller suddenly kisses her and she recoils. He departs laughing, predicting her surrender, as he and all others have surrendered to Nosferatu.

Ellen has decided to answer the Count’s call. She stands by her window, awaiting his arrival, and prays to the Virgin Mary. When he arrives, the Count declares that he has waited centuries for this moment: “At last, the spirit finds its flesh.” Ellen must give herself to him to awaken her new, eternal life, he says. He leads her to her wedding bed and begins to cast his spell. But the presence of the Virgin Mary is visited upon Ellen, who is able to resist and delay his advances. She must say farewell to her bed and to her memories of her beloved Eric and his protection. Finally Nosferatu places her on the bed and slowly sinks his teeth into her throat. Church bells are heard. The count realizes morning has come. Ellen manages to stagger to the window and open the drapes. Nosferatu first starts to flee, then turns defiantly to face the daylight; he slowly disintegrates as Ellen, weakening, sings that she is his forever, in death. Dr. Harding and Marthe enter and stare in shock at Ellen’s lifeless body.

Glossary of Opera Terms

Aria: a solo song in Opera
Bravo: often used by audience members after an exceptional performance
Blocking Specific: movements given by the stage director
Composer: the person who writes the music for the opera
Director: the person who supervises all stage movement
Duet: A song for two people
Ensemble: A piece of music for multiple singers
Finale:  the musical piece in an act or opera
Libretto: the script of an opera or words that the singers sing

Opera Voice Types

Soprano: the highest female voice
Mezzo-soprano: the middle female voice type
Alto: the lowest female voice type
Tenor: the highest male voice type
Baritone: the middle male voice type
Bass: the lowest male voice type

Alva Henderson, composer
Reviewing Medea in the Los Angeles Times, Martin Bernheimer wrote: "Henderson is, clearly, an extraordinary talent, a strategist who can cope with sprawling forms, a musician with an obvious flair for the theatrical."  Robert Jacobson wrote in Opera News: "Henderson obviously has an exultant talent for opera. . . . His instincts come right from the heart in creating arias, duets, and ensemble with a pulsing sense of melody and stirring

Biography of Mr. Henderson
Alva Henderson entered San Francisco State College as a Drama major but after several years changed to a major in Composition with voice as his principal instrument. He studied composition with Wayne Peterson (SF State) and Robert Sheldon (SF Conservatory). Before leaving the college in 1966 to pursue a career in music, he presented a complete voice recital of original works. During the following four years he completed his first opera, Medea, while supporting himself by singing in the San Francisco Opera Chorus. The 1972 production of Medea by the San Diego Opera, with Metropolitan Opera star Irene Dalis in the title role, brought him to national attention.

Dana Gioia, librettist
Biography of Mr. Gioia

Poet, critic, and best-selling anthologist, Dana Gioia is one of America’s leading contemporary men of letters. Winner of the American Book Award, Gioia is internationally recognized for his role in reviving rhyme, meter, and narrative in contemporary poetry. An influential critic, he has combined populist ideals and high standards to bring poetry to a broader audience.

Gioia (pronounced JOY-A) was born of Italian and Mexican descent in Los Angeles in 1950. The first member of his family to attend college, he received a B.A. from Stanford University. Before returning to Stanford to earn an M.B.A., he completed an M.A. in Comparative Literature at Harvard University where he studied with the poets Robert Fitzgerald and Elizabeth Bishop. Gioia's poems, translations, essays, and reviews have appeared in many magazines including The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The Washington Post Book World, The New York Times Book Review, Slate, and The Hudson Review. He is also a long time commentator on American culture and literature for BBC Radio.

In 1996 Gioia returned to his native California.

Write a summary of your version of the dracula story.
Make a report that tells the real story about vampire bats? Where do they live? Do they ever bite humans? Are their bites lethal?
What would a 20th Century Bite do to you?
For discussion: Why do capes connote some form of power or aristocracy, such as kings and counts and priests and Superman?

To make a cape: Capes are fun (especially at Halloween) and easy to make. Just go to any fabric store and choose the one you like and follow the cape pattern available at the store.

Study Guide Text prepared by Michael Winter
Picture help by Dan Allers
Study Guide compilation by Douglas Nagel
Nosferatu - suggestions for further study

Nosferatu: an opera libretto by Dana Gioia. Available at www.amazon.com and through other book retailers. Contains two essays – one by the author on the libretto as literary form; the other by Anne Williams titled Listening to the Children of the Night: The Vampire and Romantic Mythology.

Vampires in Myth and History by Beverley Richardson. Excellent essay online at www.chebucto.ns.ca/~vampire/vhist.html She also has a web page with related interests.

Rimrock Opera Foundation and NOVA Center for the Performing Arts – Opera Idaho World Premiere

Interest in the SupernaturalInterest in the Supernatural
The 19th Century (1800 – 1899), is considered to be the Golden Age of Opera, and is also known as the era of Romanticism in art, literature and music. “Romanticism” not only refers to the glorification of love, which these art forms did, but also Romanticism glorified the ideal of transcending the drab and dreary conditions of daily life. This could be done though revolution and through artistic change, through new flights of fantasy of art, fiction, poetry, legend, music and opera.

Stories of the supernatural—of ghosts, goblins, demons, vampires, the devil himself—are certainly a means of transcending the ordinary. A fascination with supernatural forces and ideas about the afterlife flourished during the 19th Century, which is when the vampire legend became popular. The fascination with the supernatural and vampires continues to this day. Occult-themed movies such as “The Ring” or “Interview with the Vampire” and “Van Helsing,” and novels by authors such as Stephen King, or by Anne Rice and Laurel K. Hamilton who write mostly vampire stories, are a permanent part of popular culture.

What’s a Vampire?
The vampire is a bloodsucking creature, supposedly the restless soul of a heretic, criminal, or a suicide that leaves its burial place at night, often in the form of a bat, to drink the blood of humans. By daybreak it must return to its grave or to a coffin filled with dirt from the ground of its birthplace. Its victims become vampires after death. Although the belief in vampires was widespread over Asia and Europe, it was primarily a Slavic and Hungarian legend, with reports proliferating in Hungary from 1730 to 1735.

Typically the vampire had a pallid face, penetrating eyes, and protruding incisor teeth, and it fed by biting and sucking blood from the victim's throat. Methods for recognizing vampires (they cast no shadow and are not reflected in mirrors) and for warding them off (by displaying a crucifix or sleeping with a wreath of garlic around one's neck) are well known. Vampires can be put to final rest by driving a stake through their hearts, by burning them, by destroying their daytime resting places, or by exposing them to daylight.

The Romanian nobleman who held that the Black Plague came down Eastern Europe by means of rats; so Nosferatu is more authentic than the Dracula myth with Bats and wolves!(A boyar is a Romanian who owns a large estate.

The vampire craze that began in the early 19th century is attributed to a story published in 1819 by the English poet Lord Byron called “The Vampyre.” Among all the of demons of folklore, the vampire has enjoyed the most conspicuous and continual literary success in the 20th century, initially due to the popularity of the novel Dracula (1897) by the Irish author Bram Stoker. Count Dracula, the novel’s “undead” villain from Transylvania (a region encompassing Hungary and Rumania), became the representative type of vampire. This novel followed by a play in 1927 and by a popular set of films, made vampire lore common knowledge. The first film was by German director F.W. Murnau, whose Nosferatu was made in 1922. This story is the basis for the Rimrock Opera/Opera Idaho production. Then Tod Browning's classic film Dracula in 1931, starring Bela Lugosi, set the pattern for dozens of vampire movies.

Oddly, the vampire legend has been slow to make it to opera. (There is an opera, Der Vampyr, by an obscure German composer in 1828 that receives an occasional performance). Rimrock Opera/Opera Idaho’s production is the world premiere of the recently completed Nosferatu by composer Alva Henderson and librettist Dana Gioia, both Americans. The main stage performances in Billings will be October 22 & 24, 2004, and in Boise, at 2:00 PM and 8:00 PM on Saturday, November 6, 2004.
Words and Music

It’s not uncommon for a songwriter to write and even perform his or her own lyrics and music for a song. But in an opera or musical play, an entire drama needs to be written. This writing requires literary talent so that the story is well told and so that the lyrics usually rhyme. The written story of an opera, the actual words used by each singer, is called the “libretto” (Italian for “little book’). The libretto is the equivalent to the script of a play.

Composers are talented at setting the words and the dramatic action to music. Since it’s hard to find such literary and musical talents in the same person, composers usually seek out a poet or an author to create or adapt a story for opera, and the two of them form a creative partnership: composer and librettist.

Musical theatre uses the same team method, and some famous names from this genre are Rodgers and Hammerstein, and the brothers George and Ira Gershwin. However, there is one opera composer, the famous German Richard Wagner (pronounced “Vogner”), who wrote his own poetry for his lengthy operas. One major difference between operas and musicals is that the action in musical theatre is usually spoken, with songs describing a character’s feelings about the situation. In opera, everything is sung.

Why Opera?
Opera can tell a story very effectively because singing something is more emotional and beautiful than saying it. Singing is the combination of two languages working together: musical language and verbal language. Of the two, music is a more complete expression of feeling than words are. This is why it’s possible to “understand” and enjoy a song even if the words are forgotten or not heard well—the music communicates the message.

Opera is the combination of other things too. Acting is required of the singers, meaning not only work on gestures and facial expressions, but also on proper pronunciation and diction (operas are frequently sung in the language of the composer, most of whom are European or Russian). Costumes of the period and hair styles and make-up are needed. This is required not only for the principal singers (or “leads”), but also for an entire chorus of singers of men and women, and sometimes a children’s chorus, for the crowd scenes. As in any theatrical production, stage sets that depict the time period and its architecture, and proper lighting and props (furniture, paintings, table settings, weapons, etc.) are required. Add to this a symphony orchestra and the conductor, whose baton is the “heartbeat” of the performance and the major ingredients of opera are in place. Opera has been called the first multi-media experience.

Nosferatu: an opera libretto by Dana Gioia. Available at www.amazon.com and through other book retailers. Contains two essays – one by the author on the libretto as literary form; the other by Anne Williams titled Listening to the Children of the Night: The Vampire and Romantic Mythology.

Dracula: The ultimate illustrated edition by Hamilton Deane. Available at the Public Library.

The Shadow of the Vampire – storyboards, photos and commentary on the 1922 F.W. Murnau film Nosferatu on which this co-production is based, at www.nosferatumovie.com
Nosferatu - Directed by F.W. Murnau
A Silent Masterpiece by F.W. Murnau. The earliest surviving screen adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula novel has had a long and dangerous life of its own.

Nosferatu by Roy Ashbury – this 88-page book is all about Murnau’s film. Available at amazon.com and other book sellers.

The Vampire Film: from Nosferatu to Interview with the Vampire by Alain Silver and James Ursini. Available at amazon.com and other book sellers.

Nosferatu – the Murnau film, available at amazon.com and other sources. There are subsequent films with “Nosferatu” in the title, so be sure you get the one by Murnau m

The Mission of the Rimrock Opera
It is our mission to enhance the cultural life of this region by providing high quality operatic productions and to make opera available to everyone through community outreach productions and educational programming. Ongoing community support of the arts and culture is important to the local economy. Literally, the arts and culture mean business to our community, creating jobs, income, tourism, and area travel.

The Mission of Opera Idaho
As you can see, opera is a labor-intensive art form, and so it is very expensive to produce. Most cities the size of Boise, don’t have live opera, but Opera Idaho believes Boise and Southwest Idaho deserve to have opera. The company also sees that the citizens, young and old, develop the skills to enjoy opera. That is why we tour into the schools, directly.
Art and Entertainment

Art is different from entertainment because art requires some skill to understand, whereas entertainment does not. Art is special, partly because of the skills of the artist required to create, and because of the skills required of the observer to enjoy. Opera is considered to be the ultimate art because it combines other art forms: vocal, dramatic, visual and musical. Like anything else in life, the more attention you put into it, the more you get out of it. We show you that opera is really worth it…that it’s interesting, fun, beautiful, and can be very powerful because of the combination of story, music and theatre.