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Reflections on "Dracula - entre l'amour et la mort"
The following notes are based on the CD (AR-CD-124) of the new (2006) musical staged in Quebec, written by Richard Ouzounian, Roger Tabra and Simon Leclerc, and starring Bruno Pelletier, Sylvain Cossette, Daniel Boucher, and Andree Watters, among others. This is a liberal interpretation of the classic tale where the characters, or certain aspects of the characters, are used to promote the story and "message" of the creators of the show.
So, what got me interested in this CD and the production it comes from? That is fairly simple - I thoroughly enjoyed Bruno Pelletier's performance in "Notre Dame de Paris" and came across information on this new show on the internet. Having heard some extracts on the official site, and loving modern music which tells a story, I invested in the CD of the show and I have not been disappointed, though I should say I haven't seen the production itself.
Personally, I have never been keen on horror and have never really understood the appeal of Dracula, beyond that of a scary figure in horror films (and I suppose we all like to be frightened from time to time). However, on doing a little research I discovered that Bram Stoker's original story is regarded as representing a turning away from myth and superstition to modernity and science, yet questioning whether science can truly explain everything adequately. It may also have Christian significance as the cross and goodness are used against this creature of evil.
In the context of the French-Canadian show, Dracula is a warrior. He is a courageous but ambitious Prince who is loved yet feared by his people. Offered the hand of the young daughter of the King of Hungary in marriage, Dracula immediately falls in love with her, but Elhemina has a dark secret, and to win her Dracula must suffer eternal damnation, living as a vampire from the blood of others.
Dracula is a strong man and leader, not afraid to impose his will on others, but he can be cruel and perhaps carried away by ambition and power. Such excesses may be tempered and redirected by love, but Dracula finds a "wrong" and selfish love which leads to eternal damnation, despair and pessimism. Tragically (for Dracula), Elhemina is assassinated, leaving Dracula to face an eternity of pain, despair and death alone, but he swears to find his love again.
After centuries of survival, and twisted by personal frustration and self-centred despair, Dracula has come to hold man and morality in contempt. His extensive experience has given him a unique overview and he has seen so much cruelty and destruction that he sees little hope for the world. In his eyes mankind deserves no compassion - it is a matter of survival as he selfishly uses others, like the rest of mankind, in order to ensure his own continued existence, but even he needs a purpose to go on - finding his beloved Elhemina, the one thing that gives him hope.
While the world's (and man's) problems are recognised by Jonathan (a principled journalist), his idealistic close friend Mina, the humanitarian Van Helsing and his daughter Lucy, they remain more positive and are willing to seek some way to resolve these problems and seek happiness where there is unhappiness.
Dracula and Mina are attracted to one another. Will Mina's thoughtful, humane and optimistic attitude allow Dracula to see life and its possibilities differently? Or will Mina be drawn to Dracula's dark and indulgent life?
Here, Dracula may well represent man and the horrors of which he is capable if his will is given free rein and he believes in nothing but himself.
Love, however, may lead to thought, consideration and respect for others.
Dracula embarks on a mission to gain Mina's love, ultimately forcing all the characters to question themselves and what they believe in - right or wrong, good or bad, humanity and caring or self indulgence and survival, something or nothing.
Will Mina choose Jonathan or Dracula?
This version of the Dracula story really brought in to focus the vague thoughts I had had on this character over the years and caused me to see him in a new light - as something more than just a terrifying figure of horror, and representative of mankind's descent into selfish survival, believing in nothing but himself.
It is worth mentioning that religion is not promoted as a response to Dracula. Idealism and belief or faith in humanity and hope, yes, but faith in a particular system of belief is avoided - perhaps in order to avoid causing offence, but also, perhaps, the authors wish to present a broader alternative, offering hope for the future.
Although it has received considerable acclaim, the show has also been criticised for "reducing Dracula to a figure of evil in a corrupt world". Surely that is exactly what he had already become, and here we delve a little more deeply to find a strong but corruptible man who descends into despair and negativity as the result of experience and love, but who eventually appears to recognise, again through love, the potential for humanity, thus reflecting man's potential for good in spite of his past, and the importance of hope in achieving it.
A little over a year after I bought the CD of the show, I have finally seen the show on DVD!
What did I think? I think it was worth all the time and effort that were surely put into its production. The show has a valid universal theme, just as pertinent today as when created by Bram Stoker, though clearly there has been some attempt to modernise it to accommodate modern sensibilities and problems. The fundamental idea of dealing with man's abandonment of principle, morality and faith to become self-serving and amoral, concerned only with his own survival, yet discovering other possibilities through love and respect, is always relevant and of interest.
The music and songs are lovely and haunting, the performances are strong (especially Bruno Pelletier as Dracula - he has a quite remarkable voice and stage presence).
However, I do think there was a lack of clarity in the narrative framework, with character exposition, motivation and inner feelings not sufficiently well drawn.
I really cannot understand why Grand-Lui (the narrator) had to be a Muppet-like character whose operator was quite visible and who was similarly made-up. It would surely have been perfectly sufficient to have the actor narrate the piece.
If we are to admire Dracula's final sacrifice, I suggest it would have been even more affecting if Dracula had clearly intimated his understanding that Mina has a mind and life of her own, and that all his waiting and pain had been for nothing. This might have been made even more touching had Dracula shown some remorse for wasting others' lives for his own benefit. This is hinted at one point, without any real reason being given (the perfect opportunity for the influence of his "reborn" and humanitarian Mina to be exercised?), and "Temple de Satan" certainly further hints at this, but if we are truly to feel pity for the character, it should have been made clear that despite his change in attitude he was driven by his love for Mina/Elhemina. Thus, when he is rejected by Mina, the audience would be able to feel sympathy, even for him.
So, we have a flawed but brave attempt to breathe new life and meaning into the legendary tale of Dracula, an attempt in which the parts are greater than the whole, at present. I believe the show has already undergone numerous changes - perhaps in a future presentation these relatively minor flaws will be ironed out so it can become the touching and thoughtful piece it aspires (and deserves) to be.
Please click on the link above to go to a page of teaching materials associated with five of the songs on the CD. I have discovered that pupils react very positively to musicals, and I have used "Les Miserables" (in French and in English) and "Notre Dame de Paris" with success.
The link above will take you to a page which contains the words to the songs and some questions (in French) to help elicit a response to the themes of the songs.
Please click here to go to my page about the songs "Entre l'amour et la mort" and "Regne".
My thanks for taking the time to read this page. I hope you found it of interest.
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