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Opera meets camp in unique Hercules vs. Vampires

USC Thornton alum Patrick Morganelli’s latest project, at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, combines classic music and a cult movie

Hercules in the Haunted World
Hercules vs. Vampires combines traditional opera with unlikely visuals: the 1961 cult film Hercules in the Haunted World. (Photo/LA Opera)

For USC Thornton alumnus Patrick Morganelli MM ’05, unexpected things sometimes go together – like opera and an over-the-top cult film.

The composer’s latest project is Hercules vs. Vampires, an operatic mash-up that features a cast of singers and full orchestra performing a live soundtrack for 1961’s Hercules in the Haunted World.

It’s an unlikely combination: live opera and the sword-and-sandal epic by famed Italian director Mario Bava starring Christopher Lee and three-time Mr. Universe Reg Park. The production opens April 23 and continues April 25 and 26 at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

The production saw its premiere at the Opera Theater Oregon in Portland five years ago. Morganelli is confident that his hometown opera company will prove a good fit for his less-than-traditional production.

LA Opera is incredibly nurturing and respectful of the art of the composer,” Morganelli said. “Even with a major international company like theirs, the extent to which they are respectful of me and the score just amazes me.”

USC Thornton alumnus Patrick Morganelli

Patrick Morganelli’s is behind the unlikely production Hercules vs. Vampires. (Photo/Courtesy of Patrick Morganelli)

Straightforward approach

Though the original film might be seen as campy, the heart of Morganelli’s production lies in his decision to approach the piece as a straightforward dramatic work.

The result, juxtaposed with the visibly comic elements of the film, “generates its own sort of wit,” providing audiences with a consciously tongue-in-cheek and entertaining work of art, he said.

L.A. Opera will stage Hercules vs. Vampires as a part of its “Off Grand” series of colorful, innovative and off-beat productions that thrive outside of the grand opera tradition.

Partnering with the American Cinematheque and the Italian Cultural Institute of Los Angeles, the production includes a cast of 10 singers from the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist Program as well as a 26-piece orchestra led by conductor Christopher Allen.

The production will feature a 60-foot screen on the stage, beneath which the singers and orchestra will bring Morganelli’s vivid, otherworldly soundscape to life.

Popcorn prelude

Unlike most performances at the Dorothy Chandler, however, one won’t likely find many tuxedoes among the Hercules crowd: L.A. Opera will set the cinematic atmosphere by hosting a costume party and selling drinks and popcorn.

For Morganelli, a longtime fan of Bava’s movies, the production has been a serendipitous experience. “It still kind of blows my mind a little bit,” he said. “I was just lucky enough that they picked me to do it.”

Hercultes vs. Vampires

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. (Photo/LA Opera)

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Opera meets camp in unique Hercules vs. Vampires

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