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Ensemble

Sanity to insanity

Lyric Opera Cleveland's 'The Fall of the House of Usher'
reviewed by KELLY FERJUTZ

 

The Fall of the House of Usher is full of atmosphere and un-earthly impressions, even when it is just words on a piece of paper. Edgar Allan Poe's masterpiece of a short story has produced spine-tingling chills in readers -- or listeners -- for more than 150 years. Now, add in another element, music. But not just any music. Music that has been influenced by events that took place between the time Poe wrote his classic story, and the emergence of a new era in almost every discipline.

With a little bit of luck, one would get an opera, written by a living composer who specializes in a new, but very accessible musical style, appropriate to the original story. Philip Glass is a child of the last half of the 20th century -- the atomic age -- in which the category of 'minimalism' ran rampant throughout all the arts. It's a happy blending, at least in this presentation by Lyric Opera Cleveland -- the final one of their 32nd season. It was also the first professional Ohio production of this chamber opera, which was written in 1988.

It was an engrossing and enthralling presentation, made spooky and ghostly by the ever-present scrim and eerie lighting effects. Director Jonathon Field and conductor Mary Chun established a fairly brisk pace, and for the most part, the ten total scene changes took place rather quickly, if not quietly, at least on opening night (20 July 2005, Drury Theatre, Cleveland, Ohio, USA).

Michael Gentile as Roderick (left) and Andrea Chenoweth as Madeline in Lyric Opera Cleveland's production of 'The Fall of the House of Usher'. Photo © 2005 Steve Zorc
Michael Gentile as Roderick (left) and Andrea Chenoweth as Madeline in Lyric Opera Cleveland's production of 'The Fall of the House of Usher'. Photo © 2005 Steve Zorc

Lyric Opera Cleveland specializes in using young professional singers, and in this instance -- the tale of three young friends -- it paid off splendidly. The casting was excellent, including understudy Michael Gentile who took the part of Roderick after a scheduling problem kept the originally announced tenor from appearing. He veered from sanity to insanity and back again in a convincing manner. His sister Madeline was given lavish presence by Andrea Chenoweth, who floated from here to there, oblivious to the other happenings on stage, and giving beautiful voice to her wordless melodies. Perhaps they were twins in the story, perhaps not, but wigs of red hair visually tied the two together.

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Copyright © 2 August 2005 Kelly Ferjutz, Cleveland USA

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