The Fall of the House of Usher
by PHILIP GLASS
WEST COAST PREMIERE
Libretto by Arthur Yorinks based on the story by Edgar Allan Poe.
Ghostly. Mysterious. Haunting. Chilling. There is a time to confront our fears and nightmares, a time to explore the fine line between truth and imagination. Welcome to one of Edgar Allan Poe's most unsettling stories. Enter the eerie realm of the House of Usher, where the border separating the real and the supernatural is blurred. Glass' haunting and suspenseful music provides the soundscape for this journey to the edge of madness.
Through his operas, his symphonies, his compositions for his own ensemble, and his wide-ranging collaborations with artists ranging from Twyla Tharp to Allen Ginsberg, Woody Allen to David Bowie, Philip Glass has had an extraordinary and unprecedented impact upon the musical and intellectual life of his times.
He was born in 1937 and grew up in Baltimore. He studied at the University of Chicago, the Juilliard School and in Aspen with Darius Milhaud. Finding himself dissatisfied with much of what then passed for modern music, he moved to Europe, where he studied with the legendary pedagogue Nadia Boulanger (who also taught Aaron Copland , Virgil Thomson and Quincy Jones) and worked closely with the sitar virtuoso and composer Ravi Shankar. He returned to New York in 1967 and formed the Philip Glass Ensemble – seven musicians playing keyboards and a variety of woodwinds, amplified and fed through a mixer.
The new musical style that Glass was evolving was eventually dubbed “minimalism.” Glass himself never liked the term and preferred to speak of himself as a composer of “music with repetitive structures.” Much of his early work was based on the extended reiteration of brief, elegant melodic fragments that wove in and out of an aural tapestry. Or, to put it another way, it immersed a listener in a sort of sonic weather that twists, turns, surrounds, develops.
There has been nothing “minimalist,” however, about his output. In the past 25 years, Glass has composed more than twenty operas, large and small; eight symphonies (with others already on the way); two piano concertos and concertos for violin, piano, timpani, and saxophone quartet and orchestra; soundtracks to films ranging from new scores for the stylized classics of Jean Cocteau to Errol Morris’s documentary about former defense secretary Robert McNamara; string quartets; a growing body of work for solo piano and organ. He has collaborated with Paul Simon, Linda Ronstadt, Yo-Yo Ma, and Doris Lessing, among many others. He presents lectures, workshops, and solo keyboard performances around the world, and continues to appear regularly with the Philip Glass Ensemble. (Written by Tim Page, Reprinted from PhilipGlass.com)
edgar allan poe (1809-1849)
Edgar Allan Poe (born Edgar Poe; January 19, 1809 – October 7, 1849) was an American author, poet, editor and literary critic, considered part of the American Romantic Movement. Best known for his tales of mystery and the macabre, Poe was one of the earliest American practitioners of the short story and is considered the inventor of the detective fiction genre. He is further credited with contributing to the emerging genre of science fiction. He was the first well-known American writer to try to earn a living through writing alone, resulting in a financially difficult life and career.
The name Poe brings to mind images of murderers and madmen, premature burials, and mysterious women who return from the dead. His works have been in print since 1827 and include such literary classics as The Tell-Tale Heart, The Raven, and The Fall of the House of Usher. This versatile writer’s oeuvre includes short stories, poetry, a novel, a textbook, a book of scientific theory, and hundreds of essays and book reviews. He is widely acknowledged as the inventor of the modern detective story and an innovator in the science fiction genre, but he made his living as America’s first great literary critic and theoretician. Poe’s reputation today rests primarily on his tales of terror as well as on his haunting lyric poetry.
Just as the bizarre characters in Poe’s stories have captured the public imagination so too has Poe himself. He is seen as a morbid, mysterious figure lurking in the shadows of moonlit cemeteries or crumbling castles. This is the Poe of legend. But much of what we know about Poe is wrong, the product of a biography written by one of his enemies in an attempt to defame the author’s name. Read more about Edgar Allan Poe
ABOUT THE HOUSE OF USHER
This highly unsettling macabre work is recognized as a masterpiece of American Gothic literature. Indeed, as in many of his tales, Poe borrows much from the Gothic tradition. Still, as G. R. Thomson writes in his Introduction to Great Short Works of Edgar Allan Poe, "the tale has long been hailed as a masterpiece of Gothic horror; it is also a masterpiece of dramatic irony and structural symbolism."
The Fall of the House of Usher has also been criticized for being too formulaic. Poe was criticized for following his own patterns established in works like Morella and Ligeia using stock characters in stock scenes and stock situations. Repetitive themes like an unidentifiable disease, madness, and resurrection are also criticized.
Poe's inspiration for the story may be based upon events of the Usher House, located on Boston's Lewis Wharf. As that story goes, a sailor and the young wife of the older owner were caught and entombed in their trysting spot by her husband. When the Usher House was torn down in 1800, two bodies were found embraced in a cavity in the cellar.
Another source of inspiration may be from an actual couple by the name Mr. and Mrs. Luke Usher, the friends and fellow actors of his mother Eliza Poe. The couple took care of Eliza's three children (including Poe) during her time of illness and eventual death.
Scholars speculate that Poe, who was an influence on Herman Melville, inspired the character of Ahab in Melville's novel Moby-Dick. John McAleer maintained that the idea for "objectifying Ahab's flawed character" came from the "evocative force" of Poe's The Fall of the House of Usher. In both Ahab and the house of Usher, the appearance of fundamental soundness is visibly flawed — by Ahab's livid scar, and by the fissure in the masonry of Usher.
EDGAR allan poe - the fall of the house of usher
Son cœur est un luth suspendu;
Sitôt qu’on le touche il résonne.
During the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had been passing alone, on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of country, and at length found myself, as the shades of the evening drew on, within view of the melancholy House of Usher. I know not how it was—but, with the first glimpse of the building, a sense of insufferable gloom pervaded my spirit. I say insufferable; for the feeling was unrelieved by any of that half-pleasurable, because poetic, sentiment, with which the mind usually receives even the sternest natural images of the desolate or terrible. I looked upon the scene before me—upon the mere house, and the simple landscape features of the domain—upon the bleak walls—upon the vacant eye-like windows—upon a few rank sedges—and upon a few white trunks of decayed trees—with an utter depression of soul which I can compare to no earthly sensation more properly than to the after-dream of the reveller upon opium—the bitter lapse into every-day life—the hideous dropping off of the veil. There was an iciness, a sinking, a sickening of the heart—an unredeemed dreariness of thought which no goading of the imagination could torture into aught of the sublime. What was it—I paused to think—what was it that so unnerved me in the contemplation of the House of Usher? It was a mystery all insoluble; nor could I grapple with the shadowy fancies that crowded upon me as I pondered. I was forced to fall back upon the unsatisfactory conclusion, that while, beyond doubt, there are combinations of very simple natural objects which have the power of thus affecting us, still the analysis of this power lies among considerations beyond our depth. It was possible, I reflected, that a mere different arrangement of the particulars of the scene, of the details of the picture, would be sufficient to modify, or perhaps to annihilate its capacity for sorrowful impression; and, acting upon this idea, I reined my horse to the precipitous brink of a black and lurid tarn that lay in unruffled lustre by the dwelling, and gazed down—but with a shudder even more thrilling than before—upon the remodelled and inverted images of the gray sedge, and the ghastly tree-stems, and the vacant and eye-like windows.
Nevertheless, in this mansion of gloom I now proposed to myself a sojourn of some weeks. Its proprietor, Roderick Usher, had been one of my boon companions in boyhood; but many years had elapsed since our last meeting. A letter, however, had lately reached me in a distant part of the country—a letter from him—which, in its wildly importunate nature, had admitted of no other than a personal reply. The MS. gave evidence of nervous agitation. The writer spoke of acute bodily illness—of a mental disorder which oppressed him—and of an earnest desire to see me, as his best and indeed his only personal friend, with a view of attempting, by the cheerfulness of my society, some alleviation of his malady. It was the manner in which all this, and much more, was said—it was the apparent heart that went with his request—which allowed me no room for hesitation; and I accordingly obeyed forthwith what I still considered a very singular summons. Continue reading...
William is summoned urgently to the estate of his of his boyhood friend, Roderick Usher. The Usher family, though an ancient clan, has never flourished. Only one member of the Usher family has survived from generation to generation, thereby forming a direct line of descent without any outside branches.
William makes his way through the long passages of the spooky house to the room where Roderick is waiting. He notes that Roderick is paler and less energetic than he once was. Roderick tells William that he suffers from nerves and fear and that his senses are heightened. Roderick seems afraid of his own house. Roderick’s sister, Madeline, has taken ill with a mysterious sickness—perhaps catalepsy, the loss of control of one’s limbs—that the doctors cannot reverse.
Madeline soon dies, and Roderick decides to bury her in the tombs below the house. William helps Roderick put the body in the tomb, and notes that Madeline has rosy cheeks, as some do after death. Over the next few days, Roderick becomes even more uneasy. One night, the William cannot sleep either. Roderick knocks on his door, apparently hysterical.
Roderick reveals that he has been hearing strange sounds for days, and believes that they have buried Madeline alive and that she is trying to escape. He yells that she is standing behind the door. The wind blows open the door and confirms Roderick’s fears: Madeline stands bloodied from her struggle. She attacks Roderick as the life drains from her, and he dies of fear. William flees the house. As he escapes, the entire house cracks along the break in the frame and crumbles to the ground.
Suzan Hanson (Madeline Usher)
Violetta (NYC), La Voix Humaine (Opera San Jose), LBO: Mrs P, (The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat), Margarita (Ainadamar), Medea (Medea), Mrs. Williamson (The Difficulty of Crossing a Field), Pat Nixon (Nixon in China - also for Arena di Verona), Brünnhilde (Siegfried, Götterdämmerung - also for Pittsburgh Opera Theater). Premiered works by Philip Glass, Rinde Eckert, Michel LeGrand, Henry Mollicone.
Other Opera companies: San Francisco, Connecticut, Arizona, Tel Aviv, Madrid, Spoleto, Florence. Theater companies: Old Globe, Denver Center, San Jose Rep, National Tour of Master Class. Recordings: The Tender Land (Koch).
Ryan MacPherson (Roderick Usher)
Ryan was last heard at LBO as Jason - Medea, & Henry - Die Schweigsame Frau. Recently: Ferrando - Cosi fan tutte at Portland Opera, NYCO, Opèra de Nice; Anatol - Vanessa at NYCO, Wiener Konzerthaus; Alfredo - La Traviata at Glimmerglass Opera, Opera Santa Barbara, Opera Tampa; Don Jose - Carmen at Festival Opera, Opera Memphis, Lyric Opera Dublin; Peter Quint - The Turn of the Screw & Heurtebise - Orpheé, at Portland Opera; The Duke - Rigoletto at Opera Memphis, Nashville Opera. Later this year as the Duke - Rigoletto at Shreveport Opera; Kornélis - La princess jaune, & Horace - La colombe at England's Buxton Festival.
Jonathan Mack (Physician)
Jonathan has performed over fifty roles during his eighteen seasons with the Los Angeles Opera, including Ferrando in Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte, Kudrjas in Janacek’s Katya Kabanova, Quint in Britten’s Turn of the Screw, and Orpheus in Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld. Appearances with other companies include Belmonte in Mozart’s Abduction for Netherlands Opera, Lysander in Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream for Kentucky Opera, Bob Boles in Britten’s Peter Grimes for Vancouver Opera, and the Steersman in Wagner’s Flying Dutchman for Opera Columbus.
Lee Gregory (William)
Lee Gregory has sung Silvio, I Pagliacci (Arizona Opera, Opera Omaha); Nixon, Nixon in China (Eugene Opera); Schaunard, La bohème (Michigan Opera Theatre); title role, Il barbiere di Siviglia (Opera Theatre of the Rockies); Leporello, Don Giovanni & Figaro, Le nozze di Figaro (Eugene Opera); Junius, The Rape of Lucretia & Maximilian, Candide (Toledo Opera); Mercutio, Roméo et Juliette (Opera Columbus); William, The Fall of the House of Usher (Nashville Opera); Prince Paul, La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein, (Opera Boston); and Carl Magnus, A Little Night Music & Wilhelm, Ghosts of Versailles (Opera Theatre of Saint Louis).
Nicholas Shelton (Servant)
Rising American Bass-Baritone Nick Shelton has garnered unanimous accolades for his dark, piercing voice, refined musicianship, and commanding stage presence. Recent performances include The Storyteller (A Flowering Tree - Adams) - Riverside Lyric Opera, Frère Laurent (Roméo et Juliette) - Livermore Valley Opera, and King Balthazar (Amahl and the Night Visitors) – Nevada Opera/Opera Idaho. Past LBO roles include: Soloist (The Difficulty of Crossing a Field - Lang) and Jose Tripaldi (Ainadamar – Golijov). Of his performance in Ainadamar, Gazettes.com raved “that is some terrific voice!” and called him “a name to remember.”
Andreas Mitisek (Conductor)
A native of Austria. Mitisek is LBO’s current Artistic & General Director. His recent credits as stage director for LBO are: Medea, Akhnaten, Winterreise, The Diary of Anne Frank, Orpheus & Euridice, The Emperor of Atlantis/The Clever One. He has also conducted a number of LBO productions including Die Schweigsame Frau, Jenufa, Elektra, Duke Bluebeard’s Castle, Semele, The Threepenny Opera and The Ring of the Nibelung. Guest Conductor at opera companies in the U.S. and Europe.
Recently he conducted Joruri in Tokyo, Don Giovanni for Seattle Opera, Madama Butterfly for Orlando Opera, American Premiere of Jane Eyre by Michael Berkeley for Opera Theatre of Saint Louis and Eugene Onegin for Teatro Municipal in Santiago de Chile. He conducted the Austrian and Italian premieres of Nixon in China.
Ken Cazan (Stage Director)
Ken Cazan is currently the Chair of Vocal Arts and Opera and Resident Stage Director at the University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music. He has directed opera, musical theater, and legitimate theater in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Norway, and Italy. Upcoming work includes directing Ned Rorem’s Our Town for the Central City Opera, Poulenc’s Dialogues of the Carmelites at USC, and Glass’s Fall of the House of Usher for Long Beach Opera and Chicago Opera Theatre. He is currently writing an opera with composer Thomas Morse, titled Rubble Women.
David Jacques (Lighting Designer)
David Martin Jacques makes his Long Beach Opera debut as lighting designer for Ken Cazan’s production of The Fall of the House of Usher. Recent collaborations with Ken include: Oklahoma! with Central City Opera; and West Side Story with the Vancouver Opera.
David has designed productions at The Royal Opera House, Teatro la Fenice, Teatro dell’Opera Roma, The English National Opera, Teatro alla Scala, Teatro San Carlo, The New National Theatre of Tokyo, Norwegian National Opera, Welsh National Opera, The Canadian Opera Company, L.A. Philharmonic, Kirov Opera, Hong Kong Opera, and The Lyric Opera of Chicago.
Alan E. Muraoka (Set Designer)
Alan has been working as a designer in the entertainment industry for the past 25 years. Production design credits include Dirty Girl, BaadAssss, and Edmond. Most recently, he was Art Director for the television miniseries The Company and the film Little Miss Sunshine. Theatrical projects include Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf and Vincent in Brixton for the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego as well as the recently acclaimed production of Oklahoma! for Central City Opera. Upcoming projects include Francis Poulenc's Dialogues of the Carmelites for USC Thornton School and Ned Rorem's Our Town for Central City Opera. www.alanmuraoka.com
Jacqueline Saint Anne (Costume Designer)
Emmy Award winning Costume Designer and former President of the Costume Designers Guild, Jacqueline Saint-Anne returns to the Long Beach Opera and Chicago Opera Theatre with The Fall of the House of Usher having debuted here with The Cunning Little Vixen and at COT, with Owen Wingrave. In the Los Angeles citywide Wagner Festival, Jacqueline designed Das Leibesverbot and now is designing the West Coast Premiere of Lee Hoiby's opera The Tempest. Other Operas: Don Giovanni, Gianni Schicchi, Three Decembers, The Rape of Lucretia, Summer and Smoke, I Capuletti e I Montecchi, Powder Her Face, and Miss Lonely Hearts.