A Thrilling Night With The Vampire In Läckö

SwedenSweden Heinrich Marschner, Der Vampyr (The Vampire): Soloists of Läckö Slottsopera, Läckö Opera Orchestra / Simon Phipps (conductor), Läckö Castle courtyard, 15.7.2018. (NS)

Janthe (Linnéa Sjösvärd, centre) and Lord Ruthven (Hannes Öberg, right). Photo: Daniel Strandroth
Janthe (Linnéa Sjösvärd, centre) & Lord Ruthven (Hannes Öberg, right) (c) Daniel Strandroth

Lord Ruthven – Hannes Öberg
Malwina – Vivianne Holmberg
Aubry – Per Lindström
Sir Humphrey Davenaut, Vampire Master – Staffan Liljas
George Dibdin – Kaj Hagstrand
Emmy Perth – Matilda Sterby
Mr Perth – Oscar Quiding
Suse Perth – Kajsa Palmér
Janthe – Linnéa Sjösvärd
Sir John Berkley – Caspar Engdahl
Gadshill – Mattias Gunnari
Scrop – Jakob Wall
Green – Martin Lissel
Young woman – Helena Magnusson
Ensemble, dancer – Agnes Duvander

Läckö Slottsopera (new production). Sung in Swedish.
Director – Johannes Schmid
Costume and set design – Paul Garbers
Choreography – Anna Holter
Makeup design – Therésia Frisk
Lighting design – Ronald Salas
Original libretto – August Wohlbrück
Translation and adaptation of libretto – Catarina Gnosspelius

Läckö Opera continued in their policy of choosing interesting but rarely performed operas with this year’s production (and Scandinavian stage premiere) of Der Vampyr by Heinrich Marschner, a German Romantic opera from 1828. The story that was adapted to become the libretto is John William Polidori’s The Vampyre of 1819. Polidori was Lord Byron’s personal doctor and his short story was a product of the same famous stay by Lake Geneva that also produced Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

August Wohlbrück’s libretto telescoped the action into 24 hours and added love interest for the hero Aubry and heroine Malwina, resulting in a well-plotted drama with ever-increasing suspense. Marschner was a pupil and assistant of Carl Maria von Weber and the influence of Weber (in particular of Der Freischütz) is apparent. Marschner’s score is inventive and dramatic, in particular in the opening Witches’ Sabbath and Lord Ruthven’s first aria that follows it. The musical contrasts are handled with great skill: a hilarious drinking song is suddenly cut short by a quiet but heartrending clarinet solo on the discovery of George and Emmy’s dead bodies, followed by a tragic chorus with only light orchestration. To me it is astounding that music of such quality is so rarely performed.

One of Läckö’s distinctive qualities is the flexibility of their ensemble of soloists, most of whom combine to form the chorus. Johannes Schmid gave each ensemble member their own individuality, but as a chorus they performed with great drama and accuracy from the first to the last of the many ensembles. In their individual roles all impressed, though space prevents individual reviews of all the parts.

Simon Phipps conducted with spirit and brought out an impressive and dramatic Romantic sound from a rather smaller orchestra than Marschner had scored for. Paul Garbers’ imaginative costumes and astute use of backcloths to create set changes made the castle courtyard a very atmospheric setting. (Productions of Don Giovanni might also want to steal his innovative table-cum-ramp down which Ruthven descends into Hell in the final scene.)

eft to right: Sir Humphrey Davenaut (Staffan Liljas), Aubry (Per Lindström) and Malwina (Vivianne Holmberg). Photo: Daniel Strandroth
(l-r) Sir Humphrey Davenaut (Staffan Liljas), Aubry (Per Lindström) & Malwina (Vivianne Holmberg)
(c) Daniel Strandroth

The show opens with an impressively choreographed Witches’ Sabbath, where the terrifying Vampire Master (a spoken part) decrees that if the vampire Lord Ruthven wishes to remain among the living for another year, he must sacrifice three virgin brides within 24 hours.

Hannes Öberg was absolutely gripping as the murderous vampire Ruthven, starting with his bloodcurdling and dramatic opening aria. After receiving his ultimatum from the Vampire, Master Ruthven heads to a prearranged assignation with the innocent Janthe (Linnéa Sjösvärd), seducing her with velvety singing that deliberately lets the ugliness of the vampire’s urges peep out from time to time. Mr Öberg perfectly plays the part of the seductive, aristocratic vampire, winding both men and women round his little finger. His hold over his friend Aubry is more brutal, compellingly expressed in their duets, above all in one where Ruthven bares his soul and explains the anguish of how he became a vampire and killed his own family because of his uncontrollable desire for blood.

Per Lindström’s lyric tenor is an excellent fit for the role of Aubry, both in his romantic duets with Malwina and his anguished attempts to thwart Ruthven’s evil plans without breaking his oath to Ruthven never to reveal that Ruthven is a vampire. Staffan Liljas played Malwina’s father Davenaut, who at first appears avuncular if vain, but becomes an old-fashioned patriarch when Malwina rejects his plan to marry her to the Earl of Marsden (Ruthven in disguise) before midnight and has the audacity to announce that she loves Aubry, a young knight with little money or snob appeal. Mr Liljas’ sonorous bass sounded the part whether he was a genial host or enraged head of the family.

Kajsa Palmér excelled as Suse Perth, with a rich mezzo that gave show-stopping quality to her telling of the dramatically scored ‘legend of the vampire’ (probably a musical inspiration for Senta’s Ballad in Wagner’s Flying Dutchman, as Wagner was at the premiere of Der Vampyr). Unfortunately, Mrs Perth’s daughter Emmy (sung by Matilda Sterby with a deliciously fresh soprano) has her head turned by the utterly charming ‘Earl of Marsden’ who joins her wedding party after her mother’s aria. Ms Sterby excels in their flirtatious duet and imperiously rejects her fiancé George’s (Kaj Hagstrand) plaintive objections.

Vivianne Holmberg was a sensational Malwina, with an agile and expressive soprano that truly convinced as a portrayal of a passionate and wilful 18-year-old girl. Of all Ruthven’s intended victims, she alone senses his darkness, though at first she is objecting to being married off to a stranger rather than the man she loves. Her performance in the final scene – a Gothic horror fantasy with black roses and a ‘corpse bride’ wedding dress – was stunning.

Niklas Smith

Playing Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays until 4 August for more information click here.

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