CESNUR - Centro Studi sulle Nuove Religioni diretto da Massimo Introvigne

"Modernity Will Not Save Her": Faith, Science, and Buffy the vampire slayer in the Italian Dracula Opera Rock

Massimo Introvigne

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Italics are no mean things. The Italian Dracula Opera Rock, produced by David Zard, directed by Alfredo Arias, and written by Vincenzo Incenzo with music by the veteran Italian rock group Premiata Forneria Marconi, which premiered in Rome on March 9, 2006, does not come from Bram Stoker’s Dracula (the novel, 1897) but from Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula (the movie, 1992.) As any self-respecting Dracula buff would know, Coppola’s movie claims to be much more faithful to the novel than its classical counterparts starring Bela Lugosi (1882-1956) and Christopher Lee. However, Coppola implies that about the historical Vlad III Tepes “Dracula” (1431-1476) Stoker knew a lot more than he really did, as Elizabeth Miller and others have persuasively argued (Miller 2000.) Of the historical Vlad, Stoker in fact knew little more than the name. Coppola, in particular, insists that the primary reason for Dracula’s fateful London trip is that he has recognized in Mina’s portrait an almost identical image (and perhaps a reincarnation) of his wife Elizabeth (who committed suicide rather than been captured by the Turks). This point is also a key feature of the Italian rock opera.

Obviously, some homework is needed in order to understand the rock opera. Otherwise one can react as did Masolino d’Amico, a senior Italian critic who, writing on the daily newspaper La Stampa of March 8, 2006, praised the “exceptional quality of the show” but confessed that he “had no idea of what it was all about” (d’Amico 2006.) He preferred to focus on the remarkable performance of Sabrina De Siena, a truly wonderful Mina who makes Vittorio Matteucci in the title role almost her second fiddler in the show. Ostensibly, Dracula Opera Rock is Coppola’s movie with a surprise finale, just as Coppola’s movie was Stoker’s novel with an innovative preamble changing the meaning of the whole story. In a nutshell, the story is Stoker’s. Jonathan Harker, Mina’s fiancé, travels to Transylvania in order to conclude the sale of a London property to Count Dracula, whilst at home his friend Dr Seward competes with other suitors for the beautiful Lucy (and beautiful she is in the rock opera, courtesy of Maria Grazia Di Valentino,) Mina’s best but flirtatious friend. Dracula’s agenda is however different. He keeps Jonathan a prisoner in his castle, where the Englishman is seduced by the Count’s vampiric wives (an incident which, in the rock opera, eliminates him from the story.) Dracula then comes to London, where he makes a vampire of Lucy and starts attacking Mina as well.

The arrival of a true vampire specialist, Dr Abraham Van Helsing, explains to Dr Seward and the others what is really going on, something only a madman of Seward’s asylum – Renfield, in the rock opera persuasively rendered by Fabio Privitera – knows because of his special connection to Dracula. The revelation compels the vampire hunters to eliminate Lucy (now beyond redemption as a full-blown vampire) by staking her, and to start a desperate fight against Dracula to save Mina and the world itself from the plague of vampirism. While in Stoker the Count tries to escape to Transylvania, but is stopped and killed en route by Van Helsing’s friends, the rock opera has a different finale. Whilst Van Helsing is busy studying plans to stop Dracula on his road to Transylvania, the Count has in fact decided to stay in London and to die with Mina by exposing himself to the sun, which immediately transforms him (and Mina too, because of her already advanced vampiric state) in mist and dust.

Author Incenzo has written that this is his “greatest change [he has introduced] with respect to the original text:” “while in Stoker’s novel Dracula is killed by Van Helsing and his friends, in my musical he deliberately decides to die by waiting for the sunset with the woman he loves” (Incenzo 2006a, 7.) It is however recommended not to focus on the story alone, because meanings have been deeply transformed once again. Between Coppola and Incenzo, vampire lore has produced the worldwide success of Anne Rice and the vampires with a soul of Buffy the vampire slayer. Rice and Buffy have changed vampire mythology forever, and Incenzo seems to be aware of it. For a Christian such as Stoker, not only is Dracula a classical struggle between good and evil, but there is little doubt that Dracula is entirely evil and fully deserves to be destroyed. It is not Stoker, but subsequent theatrical and movie versions that made Dracula a progressively more amiable character, inducing audiences to root for the Count rather than for his foes (to the displeasure of Stoker’s widow, a pious Roman Catholic.)

In the European, particularly French, post-Dracula vampire novels, the vampire is often destroyed not by religion but by science, an icon of the unavoidable triumph of progress and modernity over relics of the Dark Ages such as vampire myths. At the end of the 20th century, we find postmodern vampires such as Anne Rice’s Lestat, and stories where disentangling evil from good really becomes much more difficult. Buffy goes one step further, and includes in its mythology two vampires with a soul, firstly Angel and then Spike. When the vampires receive a soul, they realize than what they did as vampires was evil, and seek redemption by doing some good.

The whole complicate story of vampire mythology is recapitulated in the Italian rock opera, and this will probably make it a chapter to be remembered in the history of the genre rather than a mere box office hit. Dr Seward (contrary to his portrait in Stoker, written at a time when it would have been inconceivable to dismiss science lightly) is a pompous idiot, persuaded that science and secular humanism would solve all problems, including vampirism. Van Helsing debunks him in a few sentences: “Modernity will not save her,” he comments about Lucy; “True power is found only in faith” (Incenzo 2006b, 25-26.) At this stage of the rock opera it is obvious that Van Helsing is right and Seward (who will end up a lunatic himself) is wrong. But how much right Van Helsing is remains a problem.

Van Helsing’s “faith” is something different from Christian orthodoxy. He takes for granted reincarnation, explains to Mina that she now has “two hearts”, her own and the heart of Dracula’s wife Elizabeth, and offers to deliver her from this possession-reincarnation (Mina rejects the offer.) By the end of the rock opera, it becomes clear that Van Helsing (the faith, in an esoteric version) easily defeats Seward (the secular humanism,) but is in turn defeated by Dracula and Mina, because he is ill equipped to understand their true motivations.

Author Incenzo has explained that Van Helsing maintains a black-and-white version of a world of Good versus Evil, while the philosophy of the rock opera – which is postmodern, and reminiscent of the first Anne Rice vampire novels – implies that “only at a superficial sight are Good and Evil in conflict.” In fact, as is Dracula himself, they are rather “the twin edges of the same wound” (Incenzo 2006a, 4-5.) The opera, Incenzo insists, “would like to cause the audience to suspect that Good and Evil may be much closer than it is generally believed,” and that Dracula is a monster only in the sense that there is a monster inhabiting each of us (Incenzo 2006a, 4.)

After Anne Rice, however, the neverending creation of vampire universes has been powerfully marked by Joss Whedon and Buffy. Before Buffy, the idea of vampires with a soul was unknown (Dracula does appear once in Buffy, but he has no soul). In the Italian rock opera it is explained (twice) that Dracula does indeed have a soul. Just as Angel in Buffy, Dracula is horrified by his past evil deeds. Unlike Angel, he continues to do evil (to Lucy, in particular) but immediately repents and starts considering suicide. Like Angel, however, Dracula is fully capable of genuine love, comes to understand that love may destroy him but is prepared to risk destruction rather than renounce love. The rock opera’s Dracula is also influenced by Spike, the second vampire to eventually acquire a soul in Buffy, when, as does Spike in the series’ finale – to quote once again author Incenzo, – the Count becomes a “redeemer figure.” At the end of the rock opera, Incenzo writes, we see “the vampire’s attempt at redemption,” when Dracula “let the night of his soul dissolve in the sun, taking on himself the sins of them all” (Incenzo 2006a, 7.) When he realizes that, soul or no soul, he may do evil again and remain a threat to humanity and to the very woman he loves, Dracula commits suicide by exposing himself to sunlight (for an Italian audience, this is also a quote from the finale of Zora la vampira, a 2000 cult movie by Carlo Verdone, where Dracula dies likewise and which is much more than the comedy it seems at first sight to be.)

There are also obvious parallels between Mina as portrayed in the rock opera and Buffy. Both fight vampires, but also love vampires with a soul. Both realize this love is full of problems, but are willing to risk their identity, their moral integrity and even their lives in order to remain true to a love they are not prepared to deny (the well-meaning advice to the contrary of the Van Helsings and the Giles of this world notwithstanding.) Just as Buffy’s story with Spike (and to a diverse extent with Angel,) Mina’s story with Dracula is unashamedly sexual before becoming also, or primarily, romantic and even spiritual. Both believe to fight on the side of good, but are deeply disturbed when they discover within themselves an inextricable mixture of good and evil, coming from a remote past. For the rock opera’s Mina, this is the presence of Elizabeth through, as we mentioned earlier, reincarnation or metaphysical possession (a theme coming from Coppola, but more deeply explored here). For Buffy, it is the heritage of the lineage of the slayers, whose pre-historical origin did indeed involve mixing the light with more than a grain of the dark side.

A redeemer vampire goes one step further than Lestat, who may debate theology with the Devil and Jesus Christ in Memnoch the Devil (Rice 1995; see Introvigne 1997,) but remains ambiguous about where exactly he stands in the cosmic struggle (if any) between Good and Evil. And the reference to a Dracula “taking on himself the sins of them all” provides for a finale which is something more than a romantic end about the triumph of love. Love is, indeed, greater than Seward’s science and Van Helsing’s faith: but this is the greatest of all loves, the one which sacrifices life itself for the sake of the loved one and of humanity in general. This sounds more Christian than Incenzo himself would claim. And in a post-finale we see Dracula and Mina (despite having been previously dusted) reunited in a neverland, which looks very much like Paradise, under the symbol of the Grail, which one may easily interpret here in its Christian sense, as an eucharistic symbol of universal redemption through sacrifice.


d’Amico, Masolino. 2006. “FantaDracula: vicenda incomprensibile ma seduce per la bellezza.” La Stampa, March 11, 2006.

Incenzo, Vincenzo. 2006a. “Dracula siamo noi.” In Federico Romanazzo (ed.,)  Dracula Opera Rock, Rome: The Digital Workshop, 4-7.

Incenzo, Vincenzo. 2006b. Dracula Opera Rock. Libretto e liriche. Rome: MusizA.

Introvigne, Massimo. 1997. “Witchcraft, Evil, and Memnoch the Devil: Esoteric and Theosophical Themes in Anne Rice's New Orleans Fiction.” Theosophical History, vol. VI, n. 5 (January 1997,): 173-179.

Miller, Elizabeth.2000. Dracula: Sense & Nonsense. Essex: Desert Island Books.

Rice, Anne. 1995. Memnoch the Devil. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.