Patrick Morganelli's Film-Opera Mash-Up 'Hercules Vs. Vampires' Hits LA Opera (Q&A)

Hercules vs Vampires Key Art - P 2015
Courtesy of LA Opera

Hercules vs Vampires Key Art - P 2015

LA Opera goes technicolor in Morganelli's musical reboot of a cult horror epic.

Patrick Morganelli has written horror scores before ("Satan's Fiddle," "Lilith and Her Minions"), but nothing as legendary as LA Opera's Hercules vs. Vampires, a film-opera mash-up in which a screening of Mario Bava's 1961 cult horror classic Hercules in the Haunted World is accompanied by new music from Morganelli, performed live by nine singers and a 26-piece orchestra. (Performances take place April 23, 25 and 26 at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.)

Low-budget but no joke, the Italian Bava was an auteur who put his mad stamp on Quentin Tarantino, Tim Burton, the Beastie Boys and Joe Dante. There are inspired lifts from Bava in Alien, Friday the 13th Part 2, Twin Peaks and Cape Fear, and Martin Scorsese wrote the intro to Tim Lucas' 1,128-page, 12-pound book All the Colors of the Dark, which took 32 years to write. 

Morganelli tells The Hollywood Reporter how he explored Bava's haunted cinematic imagination.

Why do so many serious people take Bava seriously?

A lot of people will disregard [Hercules in the Haunted World] as a sword and sandal movie, but the story elements are really very subtle. There's betrayal, love, hatred, honor, murder, incest — just about everything you're looking for in a mainstream opera, you can find it in this film.

What are audiences going to respond to in Hercules vs.  Vampires?

People always love Procrustes, the Rock Monster, who's fun for two reasons. First, it's very clear that it's a guy in a foam-rubber suit who kind of lumbers around — I'm guessing it's not a very flexible suit — with this comic mechanical mouth. Procrustes complains that his work is never done. He sees his job as making adjustments in humans that involve killing them. "This one is too tall, I'll have to make him shorter, this fat one I'll trim down." He's a guy who goes to work every day, and does he ever get a thank you from people? No.

What's the best action sequence?

People are going to like the long fight scene at the end, like eight minutes, at least twice as long as in modern films. Also, when Hercules [Reg Park, who held the world record for bench-press] consults Medea, the oracle, the look is fantastic. Bava knew how to light things to get an effect.

The composer of Furious 7 says it's tricky to compose for action, because you have to work explosions into your music — use them as percussion.

Yes, plus you have to work closely with the sound designer, too, or you can wind up hitting the same moment at the same time, which is like two people trying to walk through a doorway at the same time. Otherwise you can get this big splodge of mud.

What's the difference between scoring a movie and an opera?

In film, even A-list composers never have the last say, whereas in opera, the composer has absolute authority. The vocal lines had to make sense not only musically, they had to sync with the mouth movements of the actors onscreen. You can get it pretty tight if you use a lot of tempo changes and elaborate meters and rhythmic structures, but then it becomes unperformable without extensive training in singing avant-garde scores. The singers would look at it and say, "What is this?" It's extremely daunting. But both film and opera can be vivid and visceral.

You entirely replaced the original 1961 score. What were your influences for your score?

I wanted to avoid cliches — lots of big drums and trumpet fanfares. I went more with French Impressionism, which is not something you hear a lot in film scores these days. I spent a lot of time listing to Debussy and Ravel, focusing on their instrumental style and harmony.

How come it's called Hercules vs. Vampires? The characters don't look like vampires.

Well, they're minions of the forces of evil. The bad guy [Christopher Lee] asks guidance from the god of evil, who says, "At the lunar eclipse, kill your niece and drink her blood." That's a little harsh. The intention to drink blood, that kind of gets you into the vampire zone.