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Patrick Morganelli’s New Opera – Hercules vs. Vampires

Friday, April 24th, 2015

The LA Opera Company – Patrick Morganelli’s new opera Hercules vs. Vampires, from the film by Mario Bava.

There are some times I wish I had a private jet I could simply go to the airport and use at will, and this is one of those times. Patrick Morganelli’s superb new opera,  Hercules vs. Vampires, is playing at the LA Opera House tomorrow and Sunday, and that’s it. By clicking on the image above, you can go to the LA Opera’s site for the production, which features a snippet of video, and a section of the work, which sounds, as Morganelli intended, very much like something influenced by Ravel and Debussy – brilliantly performed.

Bava’s film, featuring the haunting image of a young Christopher Lee (on the screen above) is a masterwork of Italian 60s atmospheric fantasy. Morganelli’s score lifts both the narrative and the images to an entirely new level, and the reviews thus far have been raves. My good friend Dennis Coleman, who lives in Los Angeles, saw the production, and gave it very high marks – and I believe him. This is an inspired “mash-up” of cinema and classical music, performed by some of the brightest talents in the world of opera working today.

As the LA Opera’s web site notes, “buckle your seat belts for our most offbeat presentation ever! Hercules vs. Vampires combines opera and midcentury pop culture, synchronizing live music with cult fantasy film Hercules in the Haunted World, a 1961 sword-and-sandal epic starring bodybuilder Reg Park. When the actors projected on the silver screen open their mouths to speak, the audience will hear their lines sung by our cast of singers from the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist Program, accompanied by a 26-piece orchestra.

Directed by the great Italian filmmaker Mario Bava, the film itself is fantastic in every sense of the term, swaddled in glorious early-1960s Technicolor. Action-packed and wildly operatic in scope, the film follows Hercules on a heroic journey to rescue his beloved from a fiendish mastermind of terror (played onscreen by horror legend Christopher Lee). Fresh and full of fun, an atmospheric new operatic score by L.A.-based composer Patrick Morganelli provides the perfect accompaniment to Bava’s gorgeously gaudy world.”

As composer Morganelli told Michelle Lanz in The Frame, “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.

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.” But the results, it seems, are spectacular.

I truly wish I could see this in person; it seems like a remarkable and daring achievement.

Phillips Gallery – Contemporary Art Auction

Wednesday, May 15th, 2013

The recent Phillips Gallery show of contemporary art was one of the best values in Manhattan.

I went to shows at The Museum of Modern Art, The Frick Gallery, The Guggenheim, The Whitney Museum of American Art and elsewhere, and all of them were exceptional, but this exhibition of contemporary art at the Phillips Gallery on 57th Street was a real surprise. Everything on the three floors was for sale, and is going up for auction as I type this tomorrow evening, but what surprised me the most was that if one were a billionaire, or even a well-heeled millionaire, one could pick up an entire “instant museum” in one evening, since practically every major 20th and 21set century artist was represented, and all at what I’d consider reasonable estimates.

Nevertheless, one must bear in the mind the the auction estimates will probably be exceeded — that’s what an auction is for, in any case — and some of the signature pieces, such as the Warhol Marilyn, actually four panels set together as a group, and displayed in a room all their own, said simply “estimates available upon request.” With Warhols rocketing off the shelf at record prices, who knows what they’ll go for?

But there were superb pieces from a wide variety of artists on display, many of them quite attractively priced, and though I certainly can’t afford to attend the auction, much less buy any of the work on display, it’s a nice gesture that one is able to walk through the gallery at one’s leisure, free of cost, and enjoy all the masterworks on display — for free. With nearly every other museum in Manhattan now charging as much as $25 at the door, this alone was a breath of fresh air, and the works themselves were iconic — authentic talismans of the evolution of modern art.

UPDATE: The Warhol quadruple Marilyn sold for $38.2 million; the total collection sold for $78.6 million.

About the Author

Wheeler Winston Dixon

Wheeler Winston Dixon, Ryan Professor of Film Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is an internationally recognized scholar and writer of film history, theory and criticism. He is the author of thirty books and more than 100 articles on film, and appears regularly in national media outlets discussing film and culture trends. Frame by Frame is a collection of his thoughts on a number of those topics. All comments by Dixon on this blog are his own opinions. To contact Prof. Dixon for an interview, reach him at or

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