Thursday 12 June 2014
BEHIND THE OPERA
Backstage and Gordon Getty's thoughts on "Usher House"
This opera, for which Gordon Getty wrote his own libretto - loosely based on Poe’s short story, "The Fall of the House of Usher" - is a masterpiece whose music is both accessible and exciting. It's a tale of good, evil and redemption, with Poe himself as the narrator who lived to tell the story:
Poe's intergrown house and family of Usher are artworks of morbidity and malaise worthy of the spectacular climax he devised for them. He has preferred to make mood everything, saving almost all dialogue and explicit action for the closing scene. There is no moral, no tragic flaw, no explanation. Poe rather gives us the logic of the nightmare, and on this plane his logic is airtight. Probably the safest course in dramatising this gothic masterpiece would have been to save both letter and spirit as intact as possible. In fact, I found myself taking liberties. To start, I have made Poe himself the narrator who lives to tell the tale. More radically, I have conceived him and the doomed siblings as types of an ante-bellum warmth and gallantry which hardly exist anywhere in the prose of the real Poe, and must be counter to his purposes here. I have added other gothic staples - forbidden knowledge, a Faustian pact, ghostly ancestors - and have shifted all into a tale of good and evil and redemption. Good means Poe and the siblings, evil means Primus and the ancestors, and Madeline becomes the agent of redemption. To fit this new design, I have played down Roderick's aliments, and played up his geniality and hospitality. I show no hint of his intolerance of light and noise, suggesting that the lumens and decibels he meets are within his comfort zone, or, if not, that he is too considerate a host to wish to seem a burden. Meanwhile, I have done everything I can to make Madeline endearing, not threatening. Only the forces of evil fear her: this premise can make the close all the more horrific. For better or worse, the deed is done. Directors and interpreters are entreated not to research the original, or biographies of Poe, for clues to motivation or personality. There are no clues outside these pages. The director is free to leave out the attendant, and to suggest the ancestors by visual effects alone, without actual performers. On-stage musicians may be members of the orchestra or may be left out.