By Philip Feeney
Northern Ballet Theatre Orchestra
Compact Disc Number: Naxos CD
The Prologue is somewhat unusual music, not atonal but just a bit weird. It should be. Its five minutes of introduction is descriptive of a man's mind flooded at times with terrifying images of events he experience when he had been in Transylvania. Yeah, remember that place from all the old (and newer) movies about the penultimate anti-hero, Count Dracula. His coffin was found in about as many spooky castles as there were moats. Eventually George Hamilton got him to New York and modern surroundings in "Love At First Bite", a movie satire released in 1979. This man returns to Transylvania to see Count Dracula; I don't know why. You can hear his knocking (with one of those old doorknockers, I mean the extra large special-order size) on the castle door. He winds up in a sanatorium ending the first act - yes this a ballet!
By Karl Lozier
Much of act 2 takes place in a grand hotel ballroom with the local beautiful heroine tempting and teasing the local studs while taking turns dancing with all of them. The romantic almost waltz-like music is instantly appealing. Unfortunately, Count Dracula shows up. Suitable brass chords and appropriate horn sections liven the music. All of this is beautifully, not exaggeratedly reproduced on this Naxos CD. Then we're treated to dance music for the " undead ", even it is catchy while very fitting for the action on stage. Yep, bad old Dracula gets to the heroine. The heroine also goes to the only sanatorium in town (remember this is before Medicare and HMO's). When her fiancée comes to visit, she attacks him. Right again, she's now a fully vested employee of the Count. Near the end an explosion opens Dracula's daytime retreat; the sunlight weakens him so badly that the remaining good guys are able to drive a stake through his heart. That'll do in even the best of the veteran vampires. At the theater this causes the curtain to drop and usually the audience to leave. In our case we can hit the play button again, toss in another CD, or turn the system off and hop into bed after being mentally entertained by a new musical experience. Repeat as required.
Knowing a bit about the action should help anyone appreciate the music. It seems wholly appropriate with even a few screams thrown in - this is not Swan Lake. Seriously though, there is much to like here. You want something new - well here it is. If you like Franz Liszt, Hector Berlioz or Stravinsky's more romantic ballet music such as Petrushka or The Firebird, repeated listening to Philip Fenney's Dracula may well keep your interest. While not quite as spectacular as some Reference Recording CD's, the sound quality takes a back seat to none in matters such as natural/realistic tonal quality and is absolutely full range. The recording engineers were either lucky or most likely very good at using a simple microphone setup. Violin sections are appropriately resinous in quality, not wiry; the horns are full bodied and the bass rock solid and naturally full; drum beats have the required " mallet hitting skin sensation ". The overall sound level seems to be a decibel or two lower than found on typical audio spectacular recordings; adjust your gain control before parking in your favorite seat. What more do you expect for $5.95 list price? The conducting and orchestral playing seem right on the button, but who knows; who has ever heard the music before? I can honestly say I've never heard a better version of this music. As a matter of fact I can even say I've never heard another version. Keep your eyes open for the whole thing at a local or state ballet production. Don't count on seeing it as a production of some famous touring company.