Dracula | Philip Glass & Kronos Quartet


Dracula | Philip Glass & Kronos QuartetPhoto - Jamie Williams

In the 1930’s, adding a music score to a film’s soundtrack was problematic, and consequently no score was ever composed for director Tod Browning’s film version of Bram Stoker’s novel ‘Dracula’. Fifty-seven years later, composer Philip Glass was commissioned to write music for the classic 1931 version starring Bela Lugosi and in so doing chose the Kronos String Quartet to help ‘evoke the feeling of the world of the 19th century’. Of the project he wrote: ‘I wanted to stay away from the obvious effects associated with horror films. With [the Kronos Quartet] we were able to add depth to the emotional layers of the film.' Glass and the Kronos Quartet performed this new creation during showings of the film in 1999 and 2000 and once again last Friday night at the State Theatre as part of the Sydney Festival. Two performances were available to cinema goers, one at the respectable time of 7.30 and a later session at spooky, vampire inducing midnight where devotees were invited to come dressed as Dracula himself.

‘Dracula’ really belongs to another time and place. Its use of fog and lighting special effects and extended periods of silence and character close-ups were intended to instill terror in its 1931 audience. These devices seen today from the vantage point of modern filmmaking all seem somewhat comical; and whilst I wanted to watch ‘Dracula’ in the context of the time it was made and hence didn’t laugh every time an obviously fake bat appeared or Dracula tried to control someone with his claw-like hand, most of the audience found the ‘terror’ of Dracula’s histrionics extremely funny – this, I felt was a shame as the movie is after all a horror movie not a comedy.

The Kronos Quartet took centre stage in front of the movie screen and the ‘quartet’ consisted of two violins (David Harrington and John Sherba), a viola (Hank Dutt) and a cello (Jeffrey Zeigler); there were also two keyboards played by Philip Glass and Michael Riesman respectively, with the aforementioned conducting the group from his keyboard. Glass’s score is intense and full of energy and added a vibrant dimension to the images on screen. The coupling of the staged and melodramatic acting and images with the intense music created quite an operatic effect, and I wouldn’t have been surprised if the actors had suddenly burst out in song. There was at times a clash between the stillness of the film and the frenetic energy of Glass’s music (constantly repeated arpeggios are a favourite of Mr. Glass but after a while can make you feel very nervous!). It seemed also that the amplified string quartet was a little too loud, making it difficult at times to hear the dialogue. As marvelous as the music and the playing were, I couldn’t help wishing that the musicians would stop for a few moments in order to give the images time to breathe and to stop the feeling that there was a battle going on between the music and the dialogue; could this be why the film with this new score - released by Universal Studios in 1999 - allows the viewer to choose between the unscored soundtrack and the Glass score?

Criticisms aside, the music was fabulous and I would love to hear it on its own without the film to distract me; or alternatively I would love to see Bela Lugosi and the rest of the cast without the addition of all that wonderfully energetic music!


Sydney Festival 2011
Dracula
Philip Glass & Kronos Quartet

Conductor Michael Riesman

Venue: State Theatre, Sydney
Date/Time: January 14 at 7.30pm and midnight
Duration: 1hr 20mins, no interval
Tickets: $65 – $55
Bookings: Ticketmaster 1300 723 038






Most read reviews

Made To Measure

There’s a lot to chew on in Made To Measure, Alana Valentine’s three-handed examination of finger pointing and tongue lashing regarding body shape and fat shaming.

Dreamland | NORPA

Connection to community is displayed in all its glory, with tears, laughter and a band that satisfies on every level.

American Psycho – The Musical | BB Arts & Two Doors Productions

This intense, hilarious, and unsettling romp satirically literalises the madness of the ‘80s capitalist fever-dream that birthed the nightmare of the increasingly iniquitous world we are now living in.

Cloudstreet | Malthouse Theatre

Cloudstreet is a big budget piece with lots going for it, in fact there’s simply too much story to squeeze into the two-part production which can either be consumed over one day or two.

Heisenberg | Melbourne Theatre Company

Heisenberg is about uncertainty, of taking the plunge into the unknown with a stranger, a lover, a friend and to start really living.

Most read news

Nakkiah Lui announced as the 2018 STC Patrick White Playwrights Fellow

Sydney Theatre Company announced last night that Nakkiah Lui is the 2018 STC Patrick White Playwrights Fellow.

Hamilton to premiere in Sydney 2021

Hamilton will make its Australian premiere at the Sydney Lyric Theatre in a new production beginning March 2021.

Sign up for our newsletter

* indicates required