This week at San Francisco Ballet, it’s the return of Liam Scarlett’s Frankenstein, an adaptation that’s much closer to the Mary Shelley novel than the Boris Karloff movie. This year marks the bicentennial of the gothic novel that began as a challenge among friends, and grew into a metaphor for the danger of playing God.
There’s more information at the San Francisco Ballet website.
That ballet has a score by Lowell Liebermann, who has company in the classical world of setting the story. The adaptations for opera and dance tend to rely more heavily on the original story. In 1990, Libby Larsen even used the full title, Frankenstein: Or the Modern Prometheus, and in her notes for the work compared the scientist who wants to create life from death to the father of the atomic bomb. “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 [Robert] Oppenheimer… —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.” Composer Mark Grey has also written an opera based on the tale, from which he assembled a symphony, co-commissioned by Berkeley Symphony, and performed there in 2016. Whether true to the novel, or just using the character we’ve come to know from the films, the story continues to fascinate and inspire works as different as cartoons, comedy sitcoms, and even a Broadway musical based on yet another adaptation, the 1974 cult classic Young Frankenstein by Mel Brooks.