FRANKENSTEIN, OR THE MODERN PROMETHEUS


Subtitle:
An opera in three acts

Libretto:
Libby Larsen

Instrumentation:
Sound enhancement needed for proper electro-acoustical mix, flute (doubles piccolo), oboe (doubles English horn), clarinet (doubles bass clarinet), bassoon (doubles contrabassoon), horn, trumpet, 2 percussion, timpani, keyboard (piano, DX7 synthesizer), string quintet Other requirements: Video and slide projection system needed to project details of eyes, hands, etc. on various layers of the scrim. Sound system needed to project backstage chorus into the hall and to amplify body microphones and mix orchestral sound.

Commissioned By:
The Minnesota Opera Company

Premiere:
May 25, 1990 by The Minnesota Opera Company, Nicolas Muni, conductor, at The World Theater, St. Paul, MN

Available From:
ECS Publishing (rental)

Composer's Notes:
From its first publication, Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus has been enormously popular. Of the hundreds of adaptations, including the James Whale/Boris Karloff 1931 film Frankenstein and Mel Brooks' comedy Young Frankenstein, only a few have remained true to Shelley's novel. Many versions, such as Universal Studios' Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, stray far from the novel, exploiting the horrible aspects of the story and distorting the characters so that today many people believe that the monster, and not its creator, is named Frankenstein!

Each adaptation, in its own manner, has dealt with these themes: humankind's inherent ambition and ego; humankind's temptation to misuse technology in service to intellectual ambition and ego; humankind's terror of loneliness; the conflict between emotion and reason; and the consequences of egocentric action in the name of progress. It appears that in Western history, each century has wrestled with these themes.

In Mary Shelley's time, questions about the use of electricity and alchemy to create life were centrally debated moral issues. Darwin, Sir Humphrey Davies, and Benjamin Franklin published volumes supporting the use of life-giving electricity and alchemy. Both the Catholic and Lutheran churches were vehemently opposed to experiments that tampered with religious mythology. It is easy for us to recognize parallels between the late 18th century conflict of the church and alchemy and the 20th century conflict between church and medical research. Similarly, consider the parallel between late 18th century experiments with alchemy and the human condition, and the 20th century dilemma of nuclear power and radiation.

Central to the dilemma are the human beings—the Victor Frankenstein, the Oppenheimer, the Joseph Mengele—who, by succumbing to intellectual egotism and ambition, became aliens in the society they wish to enrich. They become monstrous. It is for the genius that we must fear.
 
— Libby Larsen 
 
To buy the piano/vocal score or to rent this piece, please visit ECS Publishing.

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