Usher House/La Chute de la Maison Usher

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A double bill of one-act operas setting Edgar Allan Poe’s mysterious tale The Fall of the House of Usher brings WNO’s season to an end. The first – Usher House, by the American Gordon Getty – receives its stage premiere, the second – La Chute de la maison Usher, a completion by Robert Orledge of some Debussy sketches written between 1908 and 1917 and left unfinished at his death – its first UK production.

Getty’s work is the more interventionist in terms of Poe’s short story – the writer himself becomes a character, replacing the friend of Roderick Usher who narrates the original. Musically, Getty’s inspiration lies firmly in 19th-century music; Mussorgsky, for some reason, keeps coming to mind. Best known as one the richest individuals in America, as a composer 80-year-old Getty’s technical skills prove limited; his wordy opera is competent but unremarkable.

The most memorable feature of the show is David Pountney’s staging, which uses video material shot by David Haneke at Penrhyn Castle in north Wales, providing an aptly evocative setting for the Gothic horror writer’s dark imaginings. Jason Bridges’ concerned Edgar Allan Poe, Benjamin Bevan’s neurotic Roderick Usher and Kevin Short’s sinister Doctor Primus all impress.

Potentially more interesting, the Debussy score is as estimated by Orledge roughly 48% the work of the great French composer; yet whatever merits this completion has, we can gain from it only a partial impression of Debussy’s subtle and intricate style.

Once again Pountney does a good job in keeping unsettling atmospherics at the forefront of his production, with David Haneke’s videos aptly complementing Niki Turner’s designs. Mark Le Brocq presents the mad Doctor, Robert Hayward the crazed Roderick Usher and William Dazeley his concerned Friend. Taken altogether it’s a worthy evening, even if one hardly expects to see either opera again.

Usher House/La Chute de la Maison Usher at the WNO website

George Hall

  • Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff
  • June 13-15, then touring until June 20
  • Composers: Gordon Getty/Claude Debussy, La Chute reconstructed and orchestrated by Robert Orledge
  • Director: David Pountney
  • Design: Niki Turner set/costume, David Haneke video, Tim Mitchell lighting
  • Technical: Isabel Murphy casting, Richard Norton production manager, Ian Douglas company manager, Katie Heath-Jones stage manager, Sian Price wardrobe, Ian Jones head of lighting/sound, Sian McCabe wigs/make-up, Jan Michaelis technical director
  • Conductor: Lawrence Foster
  • Cast includes: Jason Bridges, Benjamin Bevan, Kevin Short, Anna Gorbachyova, Joanna Jeffries; Anna Gorbachyova, Mark Le Brocq, William Dazeley, Robert Hayward
  • Producer: Welsh National Opera
  • Running time: 2hrs 15mins
The Stage
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