Prologue: “During the whole of a dull, dark and soundless day”
Scene One: “Can it be five years my friend?”
Scene One: “She was my model in writing”
Scene One: “Where is my lady, o where is she gone?”
Scene Two: “Lady Heliane Usher”
Scene Three: “And now it is time to bid our silent farewells”
Scene Four: “We are particularly honored to receive our guest”
Scene Five: “Roderick, I must speak”

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Christian Elsner, tenor
Etienne Dupuis, baritone
Phillip Ens, bass
Lisa Delan, soprano
With special guest Benedict Cumberbatch
Orquestra Gulbenkian
Lawrence Foster, conductor
PentaTone Classics SACD Recording
Released 2013

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David J. Baker, Opera News, October 2014: “The very first notes of Usher House reveal what must have drawn composer Gordon Getty to Poe’s tale. The original Fall of the House of Usher, published in 1839, overplays its gothic horrors, but it also bathes in atmosphere. It’s the story’s haunted setting, its hints of decay and secrets, that the music evokes from the start with economy, immediacy, and apparent spontaneity. Wavy woodwind fragments, chromatically flavored, flit about like unwelcome memories as Edgar Allan Poe himself — turned into a character in Getty’s libretto — arrives at an isolated, dilapidated manor house to visit Roderick Usher, an old school friend. Traded off to other instruments, the moody elements of the accessible, mostly diatonic score are never long absent, even though Getty varies the claustrophobic moods with warmer, more conventional devices such as a tuneful ball scene and a love song. (Some of the triple-meter tunes manage to combine both modes, romantic and gothic.)”

 

Raymond S. Tuttle, International Record Review, January 2014: “He is a real composer. His style is proudly tonal, although there are, as he says, ‘hints of atonality, such as any composer would likely use to suggest a degree of disorientation’…. I think Usher House is his most expressive work yet….  My understanding is that Usher House will receive its premiere later this year by the Welsh National Opera. I suspect that it will work rather well…”

Lynn René Bayley, Fanfare, January/February 2014: “I wanted to review this CD because I am enough of a Gordon Getty fan that I like to hear everything he has written…. Unlike Plump Jack, Getty’s music here can stand on its own as a listening experience without the need to see the action. It is tonal but not ‘obviously’ melodic; as the late Moondog (Louis Hardin) might have said, ‘I am considered avant-garde in rhythm but old-fashioned in harmony,’ but Getty uses neighboring tonalities in a very creative manner, whereas Moondog did not. Moreover, the music morphs and develops in interesting ways… There is a certain strophic character about the sung lines in the first scene, and the orchestration is exceedingly clever, supporting the voices or commenting on the drama in turn. When Roderick suggests having a ball, for instance, the rhythm changes to 3/4 time and a quirky waltz melody arises; when he talks of the landscape around the house as being desolate, the orchestra reflects this in both its melodic and timbral treatment. This sort of thing continues throughout the opera, the sign of an assured composer who understands his art and knows exactly how to morph and change the music, not only in such a way that it supports or echoes the drama but also to keep the listener onthe edge of the seat. This is first-class music….While Getty’s rewriting of this fictional story for dramatic purposes is imaginative and creative, my personal feeling is that an already somewhat incredulous tale has been taken to the level of Gothic fiction, of undead ancestors and ‘forces of evil’ that border on vampire and ghoul stories. Yet the opera is highly entertaining, and I was entranced by Getty’s spectacular ability to create such a wonderful atmosphere and sustain it for 67 minutes. This is a real tour de force, certainly the best and most sustained musical creation of his I have heard, and as such I recommend your listening to it.”

Henry Fogel, Fanfare, January/February 2014: “Usher House is [Getty's] treatment of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher, and it is a more edgy work. Poe is introduced into the drama in the role of narrator telling the story. Getty has made other adjustments… He actually makes the Ushers more appealing and likeable than they are in Poe (or in Glass’s opera), and the horror of the ending is all the more dramatic because we have been attracted to them. The music is darker than [Getty's] Plump Jack, as is appropriate for the story. One hears echoes of Bartók, Debussy, and Mahler in the writing. But the score is not mere copying of others’ music. Even if Getty has not developed a strong musical voice that one can identify as his, it is not music that sounds like a rehashing of someone else’s. Poe’s monologue beginning ‘Where is my lady, O where has she gone?’ is eloquent and beautiful, and stays in the memory. Usher House takes longer to get to know than the more immediately appealing Plump Jack, but its rewards may well be deeper. The more I returned to it, the more I enjoyed it. In addition to Getty’s typically strong vocal writing, the orchestration of this work is imaginative and colorful…. Usher House merits exploration on the part of anyone interested in hearing a conservative but imaginative voice in contemporary opera.”

Barry Bassis, Epoch Times, 12 November 2013: “Getty wrote his own libretto and takes considerable liberty with the text, to the extent of making Poe himself…a character in the opera. There is a sense of foreboding throughout the work.”

Jeff Kaliss, San Francisco Classical Voice, 25 October 2013: “‘The Fall of the House of Usher’ was Poe’s most famous piece of prose. But even the biggest fans of that early American master of Gothic storytelling shouldn’t be put off by Getty’s canny twisting of the tale: He’s made Poe himself the participant narrator, framing the single-act story with the author’s mood-setting Prologue and somber Postlogue, in a manner evocative of Captain Vere’s role at the beginning and end of Benjamin Britten’s opera Billy Budd. In addition, Getty…has added elements to the devolution of the ancient curse on the Usher family, and has chosen to put the Ushser Ancestors into the production (as either silent performers or projections). These alterations heighten the dramatic impact of the show, effectively conveyed in this recording by the emotive and powerful voices of the small international cast… The cast enlivens Getty’s primarily discursive score, with Poe delivering the single closest thing to a set-piece aria — the harmonically chimerical ‘Where is my lady’… Another compositional standout is the extended orchestral writing that accompanies the entrance in Scene 2 of the Ancestors to the ballroom…and the dancing that follows. Getty grows more lyrical in this scene, with a smartly sardonic aside to Johann Strauss, and an occasional macabre stagger to the dance rhythm. The gestural aspect of much of the vocal score involves many repeated figures and octave leaps, well-paced and artfully accompanied by the Orquestra Gulbenkian…  After the Prologue, the theatrical tone becomes deceptively collegial and upbeat, with Roderick welcoming a visit from his one-time school chum, ‘Eddie’ Poe… The transition to Roderick’s revelation of his family’s bleak history is a bit jarring and complex, but nonetheless entertaining… Getty colors the noir settings of the story and its location with effective deployment of horns and woodwinds, and interposes a celesta to represent the apparition of Madeline…”

Infodad, 20 June 2013: “Gordon Getty’s opera Usher House is a different way of experiencing Edgar Allan Poe’s story, ‘The Fall of the House of Usher,’ and this too is an interesting and in some ways unexpected journey – in this case, into Poe’s thinking and the way it meshes, or fails to mesh, with that of Getty (born 1933)…. Getty’s work, whose staged première is scheduled for next year, is not so much true to Poe’s tale as it is based upon it. Getty turns the story into one of good vs. evil, making Poe himself the narrator, adding ghostly ancestors and a Faustian bargain, and wrapping the whole tale in a kind of gothic warmth that is quite foreign to Poe’s writing and lacks Poe’s anticipatory psychological profundity. Getty’s approach does, however, hark back in some ways to the tale that influenced Poe himself: E.T.A. Hoffmann’s ‘Das Majorat’ (‘Primogeniture’). Whether the Hoffmann echoes are deliberate or not, they are there. Getty writes well and effectively for the voice, and his primarily tonal orientation allows him to use dissonance effectively to make points about disturbance and disorientation – of which there is quite a bit here. The expansion of the story, the involvement of elements not included by Poe, removes some of the sense of claustrophobic inevitability from the tale, but Getty offers, in compensation, some well-considered, atmospheric orchestral writing that pulls listeners into a skewed and disturbed world that, if it is less haunting than Poe’s, is as effective in its own, different way. Usher House will not be to the taste of many opera lovers or Poe lovers, but it is a legitimate translation of Poe’s story to the stage…. Unlike Getty’s earlier Plump Jack, which uses Shakespeare’s actual language but deviates rather too much from the spirit of the Falstaff plays to be wholly engaging, Usher House succeeds on its own terms and proves both theatrically and musically satisfying – although it should not be, and will not be, mistaken for what Poe actually wrote.”

Daniel Coombs, Audiophile Audition, 18 June 2013: “‘The Fall of the House of Usher’ is one of Edgar Allen Poe’s masterpieces. This is a story based on the psychological horrors of blurred lines between the real and the imagined, the alive and the dead, the spacious and the claustrophobic.

“Gordon Getty’s treatment, Usher House, is interesting in that he allows the role of the narrator (and life-long friend of Roderick Usher) to be Edgar Allen Poe, himself. The libretto is by Getty himself and is quite well written. Getty explains that he has taken further liberties with the original story. Specifically, he allows the narrator (Poe) and the siblings, Roderick and Madeline, to be figures of good who are somewhat unaware of the evil that is represented by Madeline’s doctor, Primus, and even the house itself. In terms of the story, another way to look at this; adhered to by Getty, is that the protagonists cannot move and act freely in the house because of its structure, so it assumes a supernatural terrible character of its own; a monstrosity that controls the fate of its inhabitants. Poe, in the original story, creates confusion between the living things and inanimate objects by assimilating the physical house of Usher with the genetic line of the Usher family, which he refers to as the ‘House of Usher’.

“Opera needs to rely on the mood created by vocal line and acting and the aura of the music itself. Gordon Getty is an excellent vocal composer and his main roles are given lush, sometimes ‘stressful’ lines that exude everything from naiveté to apprehension to surrender. The necessarily small cast performs really well here, especially Etienne Dupuis as Roderick and Christian Elsner as Poe/narrator.

“Gordon Getty is a truly fascinating figure. He is the son of American oil tycoon, J. Paul Getty and after selling his inherited interests in Getty Oil to Texaco, he was able to invest quite successfully in everything from wineries to shopping centers. His true love was that of opera and was an aspiring opera singer at one point. Getty has actually made quite a mark in contemporary vocal music, including a very successful opera about Shakespeare’s ‘Falstaff’ – Plump Jack and a really interesting cantata about Jean d’Arc, Joan and the Bells. His language is tonal, attention getting and dramatic and I should imagine everyone would find something to like. [But that doesn’t stop all his recordings — including this one — for selling for only a few dollars on Amazon...Ed.]

“This is not the first time that Poe’s claustrophobic tale has been turned successfully into an opera. Other composers who have made contributions of varying success include Debussy, Philip Glass and rocker Peter Hammill. I think Gordon Getty’s is one of the better treatments. It is a compact length, wasting no emotional or psychological time or trouble. The music is very fine and the libretto develops nicely as we feel the terrible truth to gradually build.  This is a good work with terrific performances, led by the esteemed Lawrence Foster by the Lisbon based Orquestra Gulbenkian (new for me, and impressive) and the recording on Pentatone is crystal clear.  Highly recommended!”

 

 

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