Dennis Bathory-Kitsz is no slacker. He's composed some 650 musical creations, from cabaret to classical to electronic avant-garde. He co-hosts an ambitious "non-pop" radio show "Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar" on WGDR at Goddard College. And in his spare time, the 55-year-old Northfield resident designs and builds musical instruments, some with surreal-sounding names such as the "candle harp" and the "uncello."
But none of these talents is what got him on TV last month. Bathory-Kitsz claims kinship with Countess Erzsebet Bathory, a 17th-century Hungarian countess remembered for her intellect, diplomatic skills, physical beauty -- and gruesome serial murders. In a 40-year killing spree, the Countess allegedly offed more than 600 female servants, supposedly to drink and bathe in their blood.
The Discovery Channel's "Deadly Women," which aired February 9, tells the grisly tales of four historic femmes fatales using dramatizations and interviews. The show's producers found Bathory-Kitsz through his website -- http://www.bathory.org -- which he maintains in connection with an opera he's writing about his ruthless relative.
The opera's libretto is being penned by Andrei Codrescu, who fictionalized Erzsebet's life in his 1996 novel, The Blood Countess. The Discovery Channel "documentary" also plays loose with the facts. It presents the vampire rap as "cruel fact," and theorizes about psychological and physiological motivations. Reflecting on the show, Bathory-Kitsz clarifies that the Countess' Dracula rep is "mythology," although her homicidal habit is historically correct, as was her brutal modis operandi: "physical, hands-on torture, with ripping and biting of flesh."
In "Deadly Women," Bathory-Kitsz's own story is pumped up to fit the show's dramatic theme. The composer is introduced as a haunted man. "The comfort of his home in Vermont," the narrator says, "cannot shelter him from the horrors performed in his family name more than 400 years ago." The camera shows him baring his arm for a nurse, as the voice-over intones, "Dennis is consumed by his ancestor. He gives blood as symbolic compensation and is driven to unearth the reasons for Erzsebet's evil."
The blood-drawing itself was real, says Bathory-Kitsz, but the idea came from the show's producers. "I'm not a haunted man. They were trying to make drama of that," he says, adding, "I don't have a problem with that, because I'm writing a drama, too. It's all about drama."
Later in the program, the camera follows Bathory-Kitsz to the Slovakian village of Cachtice, where the castle in which Erzsebet committed her crimes, and the tower in which she was eventually imprisoned, now stands in ruins. Bathory-Kitsz has come here to offer atonement to the townspeople. We see him sharing a meal with civic leaders and reading an apology in halting Hungarian.
The scene was staged, says Bathory-Kitsz, but a similar event did take place three years earlier, when he visited with the Travel Channel for a different documentary. His original trip to Cachtice took place in 1992, when the area was still part of Czechoslovakia. The castle was hard to find, Bathory-Kitsz recalls, and the town was "incredibly poor." Since then, the place has prospered. "They're building a tourist industry based on Erzsebet," he says.
His opera will play a part in that renaissance. He's creating a full-blown production with costumes, a one-woman show and a mid-sized rendition for string quintet, sax quintet, percussion and cimbalom -- a Hungarian hammer dulcimer played with four mallets. A performance of that last version is slated to take place at the castle next year or in 2007. The Cachtice town counsel is sponsoring it, with additional funding from the European Union.
Although the history is horrific, "It happened a long time ago," says Bathory-Kitsz. "The mayor said to me, 'She is ours now.' I thought that was incredibly telling. Although ethnic rivalries continue, they're making money from her." The composer's plans aren't limited to the opera. While that work is in progress, Bathory-Kitsz is also creating a video game based on the countess.
Waterfront Video owner William Folmar of Burlington got his five minutes of fame Sunday morning when he played the on-air puzzle on National Public Radio's "Weekend Edition." Broadcast the morning before the Academy Awards, the puzzle combined word play with movie trivia. Not surprisingly, Folmar aced it. Next time you rent a flick, ask to see his faux-gold "Weekend Edition" lapel pin.