The wild ride of 'The Lord of Cries'

From left, Matt Boehler (Van Helsing), Jarrett Ott (John Seward), Leah Brzyski (Agave), Megan Moore (Ino), and Rachel Blaustein (Autonoe); photo Curtis Brown for the Santa Fe Opera, 2021

THE PLOT

Dionysus, God of Frenzy and the Lord of Cries

Agave, Autonoe, and Ino, sisters and attendants of Dionysus

Jonathan Harker, an attorney

Lucy Harker, his wife

John Seward, son of the mayor of London and head of Carfax Asylum

Dionysus appears in Victorian London disguised as a mysterious count. The city is in turmoil because young women are having their throats bitten by three weird sisters. John Seward declares martial law. The sisters are arrested but all they will say is, “The Lord of Cries! Deny him not his place …” Seward sends Jonathan Harker to meet the count, who claims to own the asylum. When he returns, Harker goes insane and raves about a “Lord of Cries” to his wife Lucy. Seward vows to end whatever is terrorizing London and to repress his passion for Lucy. She has a nightmare in which an exotic prince dares her to “Ask for what you want …” Lucy tells Seward of her attraction to him, and he tries to resist. Dionysus appears in his true form and a chorus of madwomen tear down the asylum.

The three sisters tempt Seward, who finally asks for what he wants, to stop the mysterious count. The sisters tell him he must acknowledge the beast inside himself and then behead the god, who will take the form of a wolf. Dionysus appears to Lucy as the Prince of Wolves, and she eventually acknowledges her unfulfilled passions. Later, Seward appears with Lucy’s severed head, believing it to be the Count’s. The chorus proclaims the glory of the Lord of Cries and warns of the dangers that come from thwarting the passions.

JOHN CORIGLIANO

Composer

John Corigliano is one of America’s most admired and honored classical composers. The 83-year-old is the winner of an Academy Award in 2000 for his original score for The Red Violin, multiple Grammy Awards, and the 2001 Pulitzer Prize in Music for his Symphony No. 2 for String Orchestra. The Ghosts of Versailles, his first opera, was a signature success at its Metropolitan Opera premiere in 1991 and has been staged multiple times in Europe and America since then, including a major new production at the Los Angeles Opera in 2015 that starred Patricia Racette, Patti LuPone, and Lucas Meachem.

MARK ADAMO

Librettist

The 59-year-old Mark Adamo is best known for his stage, vocal, and choral compositions. He has written the music and libretto for four major operas — Little Women (1998), Lysistrata, or The Nude Goddess (2005), The Gospel of Mary Magdalene (2013), and Becoming Santa Claus (2015). Quite possibly the most popular opera written during the last 50 years, Little Women (1998) has been produced more than 100 times since its premiere and was broadcast on PBS’ Great Performances in 2001. Adamo is now at work on a new opera to premiere in 2024. No details can be announced yet, but it’s on a highly operatic subject.

FUN FACTS

“The War of the Worlds” may be the most famous broadcast from Orson Welles’ Mercury Theater on the Air, but its first episode was a Dracula adaptation, which aired on July 11, 1938. Welles narrated and played both Dracula and Dr. Arthur Seward, an amalgamation of two vampire hunters. In typical Wellesian fashion, the climactic moment was a sound effect — the stake being driven through Dracula’s heart — and it took some trial and error to find the perfect objects to create it. They turned out to be a watermelon and a hammer, also wielded by Welles. According to a contemporary article in The New Yorker, even the studio audience recoiled in horror at the sound it produced.

The Lord of Cries isn’t the first or even second opera based on The Bacchae to be produced by the Santa Fe Opera. In 1968, Hans Werner Henze’s The Bassarids had its American premiere here, in the first performances to use the original English-language text by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman. Their plot follows Euripides’ original quite closely. Karol Szymanowski’s King Roger was part of SFO’s 2012 season. It’s more loosely based on The Bacchae than is the Henze, with an ending that owes more to the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche than to Euripides. ◀

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