Sex and the Single Vampire

June of '44. Grog Shop, 1765 Coventry Road, Cleveland Heights. 10 p.m., Thursday, September 16, $7, 216-321-5588.
Sucking in the '90s: David Del Tredici.
Sucking in the '90s: David Del Tredici.
He's written music about penises and fairy tales. Now avant-garde classical composer David Del Tredici has moved on to bloodsucking freaks with the release of Dracula, a tale of seduction and sensuality with a dark side.

"It's all about me," Del Tredici, a Pulitzer Prize-winning composer and self-proclaimed sex addict, says of the work, which he wrote "with no time for second thoughts." Del Tredici's caped crusade, which premiered in New York this year, will be performed by the Cleveland Chamber Symphony on Monday as part of a program called "Blood, Sweat, and Tears."

Peppered with exotic percussion, including a wind machine and the rarely heard Theremin — that wooo-ee-ooo instrument used in the early days of horror movies — Dracula is a twenty-minute mad scene starring a woman who lives next door to the famed fang-man. The count keeps coming over to her house — but not to borrow a cup of sugar. After several visits involving tea, crumpets, and neck appraising, the woman gradually turns into a vampire, singing an ecstatic aria of transformation as she becomes a card-carrying member of the legion of vampires.

Del Tredici's Dracula was born after a 1996 trip to an artists' colony, where poet Alfred Korn gave him several of his books to read. At the end of his stay, Del Tredici returned them. "They were lovely," he swooned.

But Korn dug further, asking Del Tredici what he thought of his poem "My Neighbor, the Distinguished Count."

"Oh, I missed that one," replied Del Tredici. But he eventually got around to actually reading it, and the ideas for the classical composition, which was based on the poem, came in torrents.

"It felt like the piece was coming through me," he says. "It was like being turned into a vampire yourself. I began one day and said, "Who knows where this will go?'" The transmutation to paper took all of a week.

Soprano Hila Plitmann, who lives in Los Angeles, has the task of playing both Dracula and his victim. Though she's not enough of a contortionist to bite her own throat, she does revel in the manic demands of the part. "I think those extremes make things interesting," she says of the split-personality complex. "Otherwise, [classical music is] all kind of vanilla."

When Del Tredici, more raspberry ripple than vanilla, gets a little spent, he cops a weekend feel at a group massage school in California, the Body Electric, where guests practice Tantric yoga, body massage, and open sexuality.

"Every time I come back from there," he says, "I have a rush of creative energy." Openness and freedom displace theory in his composing process, which he likens to "allowing yourself to go crazy, writing down anything that comes to mind and not judging it. It's a natural act, like eating or having sex."

Sex and surrender are big honking themes in Del Tredici's work. He recently finished a "totally pornographic" song cycle called "My Favorite Penis Poems" and spent twenty years building music around material from Alice in Wonderland, homing in on author Lewis Carroll's pedophiliac side.

Of course any opera buff will happily proclaim that seduction and madness are nothing new to composers, but Del Tredici approaches the subjects with a directness that might seem more in character on an afternoon talk show than in an orchestral concert hall.

"I've been through a lot of transformations in my life," he says. "I'm a recovering alcoholic and sex addict. I'm recovering from a lot of damage and excess." — Michael Gill

The Cleveland Chamber Symphony performs Del Tredici's Dracula, Edward Miller's Cascades for Clarinet, Piano, and Strings, Derek Bermel's Continental Divide, and Robert Erickson's Garden at 8 p.m. Monday in Drinko Recital Hall in the Cleveland State University Music and Communication Building, located at East 21st Street and Euclid Avenue. Free. For more information, call 216-687-5017.

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