Friday, August 14, 2009

Nosferatu: The Face You Remember Without Having Met

Can the "weakest" among us resist the strongest? Today we're looking at the opera, Nosferatu, composed by Alva Henderson. Dana Gioia wrote the libretto (words) for the opera and he graciously agreed for me to post excerpts here on PF.

The story of Nosferatu comes from the 1922 movie of the same name, which itself was inspired by Bram Stoker's Dracula. In the opera, the character of Ellen, known for being frail of health, senses that her husband Eric will be in danger if he embarks on the journey he is planning. Despite Ellen's unease, Eric goes to visit Count Orlock (who is actually Nosferatu). In a duet with Nosferatu, Ellen fights from afar for Eric. Here's a little bit of what Nosferatu has to say:

excerpt of Duet: The Battle
By Dana Gioia

Day is only
Half of life--
Bitter hours
Of toil and strife.
But night restores
The body's ease.
Darkness cures
The soul's disease.


Count Orlock wins, but Eric is the real loser, as he goes mad:

Eric's Mad Song
By Dana Gioia

I sailed a ship
In the storm-wracked sea,
And all were drowned
Except for me.
I swam all night
Through death-cold waves
Till my shipmates called
From their sunken graves,
A lucky life for you, lad, a lucky life for you!

I fought through wars
In a barren land
Till none were left
Of my rugged band.
On a field of dead
Only I stood free.
Then a blind crow laughed
From a blasted tree,
A lucky life for you, lad, a lucky life for you!

I scaled a mountain
Of cold sharp stone.
The others fell,
And I climbed alone.
When I reached the top,
The winds were wild,
But a skull at my feet
Looked up and smiled,
A lucky life for you, lad, a lucky life for you!

Now I sit in my mansion
With my art and my gold,
And a dozen servants
Who do what they're told,
But the nights are long,
And dawn brings no cheer,
And I wake alone,
And the paintings all sneer,
A lucky life for you, lad, a lucky life for you!


Nosferatu can obviously ruin his victims' lives, but at the same time, he manages to be strangely attractive. He captures that mix of menace and temptation in this aria:

Nosferatu's Nocturne
By Dana Gioia

I am the image that darkens your glass,
The shadow that falls wherever you pass.
I am the dream you cannot forget,
The face you remember without having met.

I am the truth that must not be spoken,
The midnight vow that cannot be broken.
I am the bell that tolls out the hours.
I am the fire that warms and devours.

I am the hunger that you have denied.
The ache of desire piercing your side.
I am the sin you have never confessed.
The forbidden hand caressing your breast.

You've heard me inside you speak in your dreams,
Sigh in the ocean, whisper in streams.
I am the future you crave and you fear,
You know what I bring. Now I am here.


Why has he come? He seeks Ellen. Her husband is out of the way, so Nosferatu tries to persuade her that they were meant to be together:

Nosferatu's Vision
By Dana Gioia

You are the moon in a sunlit sky --
Pale, diminished, alone.
All of your life you have traveled toward
The night you have never known.
I am the darkness that falls from the sky,
The blackness that brings you light,
He who reveals your one true form --
Cold, eternal, and bright.


Does Ellen take him up on it? You'll have to read/see/hear the opera to find out.

~ Dana Gioia's site
~ Photos from the 1922 movie


Laura said...

Great post, Tabatha! The excerpts are lyrical and scary. The last piece to Ellen captures that fear/attraction response to vampires. Let's talk when the kids are back to school.

Anonymous said...

I love these poems/lyrics. Fantastic! Thanks for introducing me to them. My favorite lines of all are:

I am the dream you cannot forget,
The face you remember without having met.

But there's so much here to soak up. And now I'm humming "Moon Over Bourbon Street," by Sting (based on Interview with a Vampire). I love those haunting, melancholy songs!