The Setting: the action of the opera takes place in the Baltic seaport of Wisborg in the mid 19th century.
The Counting House
Heinrich Skuller is an elderly, peculiar businessman and moneylender, who has just read a letter with great interest. He summons a young man, Eric, whom he knows is married and desperate for a job. Skuller explains that a wealthy nobleman—Count Orlock of Hungary—wants to buy a place in Wisborg that he can renovate, so Skuller purchased an old estate for the Count. Eric’s job is to travel to Hungary immediately and make the sale to the Count, for which Eric can keep half the proceeds. This could also lead to a business partnership with Skuller. Eric is reluctant; the house is in ruin, and he doesn’t want to leave his wife Ellen, who is not well. Skuller persuades Eric to make the journey in order to provide for his wife and to secure his dreams of financial security.
Dr. Harding and Ellen’s sister Marthe are in Eric and Ellen’s apartment speaking softly about Ellen’s condition while she recovers from another night of nightmares and sleepwalking. Eric enters and exclaims the news of his employment, but as the job is described, Marthe pleads for Eric not to leave his wife in her delicate condition. Ellen awakes and tells Eric of her dream of Eric being sacrificed on an altar. Eric dismisses her dream and insists he must take the job for their benefit; Dr. Harding adds that Ellen can be cared for in Eric’s absence. Eric and Ellen pledge their undying love and unity and, before he departs, Ellen places around his neck a locket with her portrait inside.
Attended by servants, Eric has been waiting all afternoon in the Count’s dining hall. Eric looks longingly at the locket and wishes he had not left Ellen. At sunset Orlock finally appears. He is a gracious host. Eric begins his sales pitch, but the Count just wants to sign the purchase contract, as he plans to depart for Wisborg tomorrow. The castle and the land of his ancestors are in decay, the count explains. Eric shows his locket to the Count, who soon becomes obsessed with the portrait of Ellen. Count Orlock begins to cast a spell over Eric, but as Eric is about to succumb, he calls out for Ellen, who then becomes psychically connected to Eric and to the Count. Ellen and the Count communicate telepathically, and they each call to Eric to come to them, but Eric can only hear the Count, and surrenders to the Count’s bite. Ellen realizes Eric is lost, but the Count allows Eric to live as his gift to Ellen, whom he now plans to claim as his bride.
Ellen is at the harbor of Wisborg wishing upon the evening star for Eric’s safe return. Skuller arrives. Has he any word of Eric? It’s been three months. Skuller tries to reassure her, but Ellen leaves, and he is glad to see her go. He is nervously excited, for “tonight at last the master comes.” A ship comes into view. It has no name; only Orlock (Nosferatu) stands at the prow, looking youthful and strong. He tells Skuller that he has not come to rest at his new home, but to establish a new domain worthy of his ancestors. Rats have scurried off the ship, and servants appear to remove two coffins filled with dirt. As he will do every midnight until she invites him into her arms, Nosferatu sings to Ellen that he—the undead—is her destiny.
Ellen and Martha are on their way to Dr. Harding’s sanitarium to visit Eric. They hear a chorus singing the Dies Irae (Day of Wrath) from the Mass for the Dead, but it’s not the usual Gregorian chant melody established by the church. Martha comments that this judgment day must not be of God; that the plague arrived in Wisborg on the death ship that drifted into the harbor with its dead crew. At the sanitarium Dr. Harding greets the sisters and brings out Eric, accompanied by Skuller, who is now also an inmate. Eric believes the sanitarium is his mansion and that the inmates are his servants (though not very good ones). He sings to Ellen of his adventures while away, revealing his delusion, and pleads with her to live with him as man and wife. Eric is taken away, and Skuller returns, now alone with Ellen. He asks when she will respond to her nightly calls from Nosferatu. “Never,” she replies, and vows to defeat Nosferatu. Skuller whispers how that could be done: if she were able to hold the Count spellbound until dawn, the daylight would destroy him. Skuller suddenly kisses her and she recoils. He departs laughing, predicting her surrender, as he and all others have surrendered to Nosferatu.
Ellen has decided to answer the Count’s call. She stands by her window, awaiting his arrival, and prays to the Virgin Mary. When he arrives, the Count declares that he has waited centuries for this moment: “At last, the spirit finds its flesh.” Ellen must give herself to him to awaken her new, eternal life, he says. He leads her to her wedding bed and begins to cast his spell. But the presence of the Virgin Mary is visited upon Ellen, who is able to resist and delay his advances. She must say farewell to her bed and to her memories of her beloved Eric and his protection. Finally Nosferatu places her on the bed and slowly sinks his teeth into her throat. Church bells are heard. The count realizes morning has come. Ellen manages to stagger to the window and open the drapes. Nosferatu first starts to flee, then turns defiantly to face the daylight; he slowly disintegrates as Ellen, weakening, sings that she is his forever, in death. Dr. Harding and Marthe enter and stare in shock at Ellen’s lifeless body.
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Melodic, rhythmically bold; atonal sections; influenced by expressionistic musical intensity and procedures; leitmotifs linked to main dramatic themes; some taped sounds of Nepalese funeral mourners.
Sally Dibblee (Camilla and Mina)
Barry Busse (Nosferatu)
Brian Nickel (Mayor)
Helen Yu (Sequin Lady)
Pamela MacDonald (Nurse)
Allison Scott (Josef)
Gaynor Jones (Josef's Mother)
Robert Dirstein (Josef's Father)
Kenneth Baker (Banker)
Randall Jakobsh (Policeman)
Marcia Swanston (Nzbana)
John Avey (Tomas)