HERCULES VS VAMPIRES MIXES SWORDS, SANDALS, AND GRAND OPERA
While the combination or a 1960s Italian muscleman film and modern opera might seem to be a recipe for ridiculousness, the Nashville Opera’s presentation of Hercules vs Vampires this weekend is a brilliant mash-up of pop art and high culture.
Sword-and-sandal or peplum films (a reference to the Greek or Roman tunics worn in the films) were historical action adventures that dominated the Italian film industry from 1958 to 1965. Inspired by such Hollywood blockbusters as The Ten Commandments and Ben-Hur, peplum films combined lush Italian scenery, imported American or British musclemen actors, glamourous European starlets, action-filled fight scenes, and just a touch of homoeroticism to create ancient-age superhero epics.
Hercules in the Haunted World was the sixth in a series of 19 films to relate the adventures of the ripped Greek demi-god, Hercules. Released in 1961, the film starred British bodybuilder Reg Park in the titular role and famed British actor Christopher Lee as the villainous necromancer King Lico. The brainchild of Italian director and cinematographer Mario Bava, the film may have been short on coherent story and budget but profited greatly from Bava’s cinematic eye for atmospheric lighting and gothic design, as Hercules fights an army of zombies, vampires, and other supernatural no-good-nicks to save the life of the beautiful Princess Deianira.
Because of Bava’s reputation as a master of the Italian horror films through such productions as Black Sabbath (1963), Planet of the Vampires (1965), and Kill, Baby ... Kill! (1966), Hercules in the Haunted World has become a cult favorite with exploitation film fans, along with inspiring composer Patrick Morganelli to write a new soundtrack for the film with his opera Hercules vs Vampires. Premiering in March 2010 in Portland, Oregon, the multi-media presentation of the film projected behind live performers on stage has proven a hit with both audiences and critics — propelling Bava’s musclebound melodramatic horror-fantasy adventure to new heights.
The Nashville Opera presents Hercules vs Vampires (sung in English with projected English titles) at 8 p.m., Sat., Jan. 27, in TPAC’s Andrew Jackson Hall. Composer Patrick Morganelli and Nashville Opera CEO & Artistic Director John Hoomes will present a free Opera Insights preview one hour before the performance in the theater. Tickets start at $26 and are available from nashvilleopera.org.