Society & Culture & Entertainment Music

Dracula, the Opera: A Profile of Composer Paul Ziemba

In the fall of 2004 I had the privilege of interviewing composer Paul Ziemba.
The following article is the result of that interview.
This October (2004) those in the Buffalo, NY area will have the opportunity to see an operatic version of Dracula.
The composer, Paul Ziemba, an engaging, enthusiastic individual, spent several years writing and perfecting this work.
Paul loves classical music but especially that composed for guitar which is his instrument of choice.
He has studied music much of his life, but only turned to composing when in his late thirties and then wrote mostly for classical guitar.
His introduction to writing works of greater length came when he wrote a musical for the school where his daughters attended.
Matching his love for music is a passion for reading, and one of his favorite novels is Bram Stoker's Dracula which was first published in 1887 and still considered the classic vampire story to which most others are compared.
It occurred to Paul that although there had been many films and plays, about Count Dracula there had never been an opera.
His first step was to reread the book that he had enjoyed many years before.
Then in 1994 Paul began composing an opera based on Stoker's novel.
He felt that a classical romantic score would be best because of the gothic nature of the setting and plot, and because the story takes place in the late Victorian era.
There are two basic styles of opera.
The common method is the sung "through style" where the music is continuous and largely without individual songs.
The second, most common method is what Paul calls "song style" which has a musical score divided into clearly individual numbers.
It is this style he uses for Dracula, the Opera.
The score includes a waltz, a polonaise, a mazurka, several romantic arias, a lively gypsy number, plus music to accompany several specially choreographed ballets.
Here is how Paul describes the score, "In all the music, melodic themes are distinct and often strongly developed depending upon scene, setting, story, and of course, the characters.
" Stoker's Count Dracula was a menacing fellow who clearly bore the stigma of evil.
Of course this was not obvious to most mortals, especially women whom he could entice quite easily.
Only Dr.
Abraham Van Helsing knew immediately the terrible danger he imposed.
By the time Van Helsing arrives it is too late to save poor, sweet Lucy, but fortunately her friend Mina can still be rescued.
Paul wanted his opera to closely follow Stoker's tale, however, as have other writers, he wanted to present the Count as a much more sympathetic character.
He sees Dracula as a romantic, passionate nobleman who is cursed.
Someone who has waited ages for his long lost love, and believes that he has found her reincarnated in Mina.
When Mina eventually spurns him he is crushed by her rejection.
All the major characters from the novel are present in the opera including Renfield who has a comic number in which he sings while doing his bug eating shtick.
Paul has not read other works of vampire fiction.
Nothing could be better than Bram Stoker's creation.
He has, however, seen some of the Dracula adaptations for film most of which he concedes are awful.
Still he has some favorites like Bela Lugosi's portrayal in the 1931 film, Horror of Dracula starring Christopher Lee, and finally director Francis Ford Coppola's adaptation entitled Bram Stoker's Dracula.
In the academic world swirls a controversy over whether Stoker actually based his vampire character on the son of Vlad Dracul widely known as Vlad the Impaler.
The intrepid Mr.
Z courageously voices his opinion, "Vlad is best know as a tyrant who impaled people as a scare tactic for his enemies and his own citizens.
None of this is mentioned in Stoker's novel.
Stoker picked a local with the right mythology and terrain that fit.
" So here another vote is cast on that interminable debate for those who care about such minutia.
This October's performance of Dracula, the Opera composed by Paul Ziemba will be performed with a cast of 20 and a small orchestra.
Count Dracula will be played by Gary Sage, Mina Murray by Maria Goodrich, Jonathan Harker by Joshua Snyder, Renfield by Steven Bednasz, and Dr.
Van Helsing by Uhriel Bedoya.
The director is Heide Cornell.
The ballet choreographer is Lisa Taylor.
The musical director and conductor is Ivan Docenko.

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