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.






Addendum


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.



Teaching materials

Reflections on “Entre l’amour et la mort” and “Règne”,

from the musical “Dracula”

Entre l’amour et la mort

À quoi me sert de vivre encore
Sous mes paupières le sang est lourd
Je suis un loup qui se dévore
Pris entre la mort et l'amour

À quoi me sert d'avoir un corps
Qui n'est qu'une prison pour mon cœur
Devenant une plante carnivore
Je suis un ange prédateur

Moi qui ne vois jamais le jour
À quoi me sert de vivre encore
Pris entre l'amour et la mort
Qui me portera secours
Dans cet univers sans pitié
Où tout bientôt sera brûlé

Je meurs, je meurs à tout moment
Qu'il me faut vivre loin de toi
Et moi qui voulais des enfants
Je suis le dernier Dracula

Mais je me vengerai du monde
Et tant pis pour les innocents
Je serai le torrent qui gronde
La nuit jusqu'à la fin des temps

Mon âme est un oiseau qui pleure
Mille morsures pour un baiser
Dracula coupable d'aimer
Me reviendras-tu rien qu'une heure
Toi qui ne m'as jamais quitté
Ou préfères-tu que je meure

Je vous prédis que l'avenir
N'est déjà plus qu'un champ de ruine
Un grand soleil qui se déchire
Sur des forêts qu'on assassine

J'y vois des oiseaux de fer blanc
Chevauchés par des hommes fous
Criant le nom de Dieu avant
De mettre leurs frères à genoux

Je vois un océan de sang
J'entends ce qu'entendent les sourds
Quand ils entendent crier le vent
À quoi me sert de vivre encore
Parmi les cendres éternelles
Pris entre l'amour et la mort
Pris entre l'amour et la mort


This song is performed fairly early in the show when Dracula has lost the love of his life, Elhemina, and has been left to face eternity alone.

Centuries later he ponders the point of his continued existence. Clearly he is tiring of the life he leads, comparing himself to a heartless wolf and a soulless plant, doing what he must do to survive, but without his love, life is hollow and worthless. Driven by his continued love for Elhemina, he continues to feed his body and appears to recognise the waste of the gift of immortality if he must feed on others to maintain it.

He complains he never sees daylight, and by extension perhaps he is saying he cannot see the point of life.

His self-pity is not offset by thoughts of compassion or consideration for others, and turns to frustration and anger as he sees little hope for the world – he sees only pain and destruction.

Just as he was willing to conquer lands as a warrior prince, so he is willing to use others in his vengeance on the world, in an attempt to appease his anger and sense of injustice at his fate. He recognises only his own pain and feels he is guilty only of falling in love.

He goes on to give his overview of mankind (formed by centuries-long experience), predicting a bleak future of destruction and death, sometimes done in the name of God, but always leading farther down the path to mankind’s extinction, and perpetrated by man himself.

Clearly he sees no hope for the future – nothing but an ocean of blood, while he is trapped for eternity surrounded by death, yet driven by love.

According to Dracula, man is undeserving of his pity and compassion. Dracula is only doing what others do as well – he is fighting for his own survival.

The scene is thus set for conflict, drama and change as Dracula encounters Van Helsing, Lucy, Jonathan and of course Mina – all of whom may have their doubts, but they represent love, humanity, principle and a determination to help their fellow man.

Règne
(Dracula)

Quand je ne serai plus
Qu'une étrange légende
Un demi-dieu vaincu
Dans son château de cendre

Règne

Règne sur la beauté
De toutes choses humaines
Deviens la vérité
De celui que tu aimes

Règne

Ramène la tendresse
Dans l'âme des humains
Mon amour je te laisse
La Terre entre les mains

Règne mon soleil déchiré
Ma princesse bien aimée
Avant que tout s'éteigne
Ma souveraine

Règne sur l'or du temps
Les collines et les plaines
Protège l'océan
Où dorment les sirènes

Règne

Protège le futur
Épargne-nous la haine
Apaise les blessures
De ce siècle qui saigne

Règne mon soleil déchiré
Ma princesse bien aimée
Avant que tout s'éteigne
Ma souveraine

Sur l'orchestre du temps
Sur les ongles du vent
Protège le printemps
De l'hiver qui l'attend

Règne sur l'au-delà
Et règne sur ma peine
Ô règne encore sur moi
Ma princesse ma souveraine

Règne

Quand je ne serai plus
Qu'une étrange légende
Un demi-dieu vaincu
Dans son château de cendre

Quand le diable aura dit
C'est lui que j'ai maudit

Règne


Coming at the end of the show, “Règne” presents a far more positive view of man and his future compared to the disillusion and cynicism of “Entre l’amour et la mort”, which presents Dracula’s view of life at the beginning of the musical.

Facing death and oblivion, Dracula reflects on how he will be remembered once he is gone, and on what is important in life.

The opening verse (repeated toward the end of the song, though in a markedly different way) reflects regret and a sense of worthlessness as Dracula contemplates death, his legacy and how the world will regard or judge him in the future.

The use of “ne … plus que …” suggests that being a strange legend is all he will be remembered for, and clearly he feels his life was worth much more, but he recognises that future attention will focus on that for which he became a legend, ignoring many other (worthwhile) facets of his life. Yet even here, although he is legendary, he is “étrange”, again belittling his achievements and reinforcing the theme of concern over how he will be perceived after death.

He has become a “demi-dieu vaincu”, sharing god-like immortality and power, yet defeated in the end, “dans son château de cendre”, again returning to the idea that what was once powerful and impressive is now reduced to nothing, reflecting every man’s fear that ultimately his life will have counted for very little.

Bruno Pelletier also sings this verse with an air of calm defeatism – as if he is abandoning himself to the inevitability of his fate.

The word “Règne” is sung for the first time in much the same tone. Of course use of this word begs questions. To whom is it addressed? What does use of this word imply? Clearly it is addressed to Mina, the love of his life, but Mina has come to represent more than that – she represents principle, hope and humanity. While Elhemina was a princess, “règne” carries implications beyond mere title and suggests dignity, quality and authority. It is also a command instructing love and principle to take charge. Dracula sees hope for the future of humanity, though (according to the way in which it is sung), it may be relatively faint at the moment.

With the next verse we see something of a change of heart in Dracula – “Règne sur la beauté de toutes choses humaines” reveals movement from the total negativity of “Entre l’amour et la mort” to appreciating and admiring beauty in all human things. He has learned to see something good or attractive in every aspect of life. This may be due to Mina’s influence, but it may also be due to his impending demise which, naturally enough, will cause him to reflect upon and appreciate life differently.

He then suggests that Mina (or the love, humanity and principle she represents) should become the “truth” for the one she loves. She should become a guiding light offering clarity of purpose.

“Règne” is repeated, but more strongly, and will be repeated ever more strongly in the course of the song, reflecting increasing inspiration, a sense of purpose and clarity of thought.

With “Ramène la tendresse ..” we are reminded of the state man has got himself into, and that love, respect and humanity can lead to an increase in tenderness, caring and thoughtfulness. Again this is a positive message of hope for the future.

“Mon amour ..” reminds us that he is dying as well as the importance and scale of Mina’s “mission” to save humanity (from itself).

The chorus implores Mina to take control before it is too late. “Ma souveraine” reinforces the use of “règne” and “ma princesse”, all underscoring thoughts of truth, dignity and authority.

Next we have a series of examples of ways and places where Mina can and should exercise her influence. She is asked to rule over time (“l’or des temps”, showing he now considers each moment as precious and to be savoured), over hills and plains (all lands and countries), and to protect the ocean with its hidden beauties and dangers (the same can be said for life itself).

Protect the future, spare us hatred and heal the wounds of this century in turmoil (though put more poetically!) are all quite clearly put and equally reflect a desire to see things improve, while recognising faults and weaknesses of the past.

The chorus is then repeated twice, though with a slight change the second time, indicating the immense power Mina (or love/humanity) may exercise.

These verses have been sung with greater force and authority, emphasising a certain awakening, strength of purpose and a positive desire for change.

The two following verses are sung with even greater force, suggesting defiance and perhaps even a certain anger and awareness that time is running out.

Here Dracula talks of the elements, suggesting love and humanity will protect us from adversity and hardship (which are inevitable).

Then Dracula speaks more personally and reaches something of a crescendo as he implores Mina to rule over him and his pain in the afterlife, culminating in a powerful and defiant “Règne”.

This could well have been the end of the song, but the opening verse is now repeated, sung forcefully and with the addition that he feels cursed by the devil, showing regret, bad judgment, and suggesting he realises he has followed the wrong course in his life.
The final powerful and heartfelt command “Règne” sums up this defiant cry of hope for the future, yet it is tinged with tragedy as this is a future Dracula cannot share.

I hope you found this page of some interest – I can be contacted at stuart@stuartfernie.com
Stuart Fernie







 

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