San Francisco Opera (SFO) will conclude the Fall portion of its 93rd season with a program of two operas both inspired by the same tale by Edgar Allan Poe, “The Fall of the House of Usher.” This ingenious project is a co-presentation with the Welsh National Opera (WNO), for which David Pountney staged the world premiere. His staging was augmented by imaginative, other-worldly video projections created by David Haneke, based on films made at Penrhyn Castle in North Wales. The SFO performances will be the first United States presentation of the results. The conductor will be Lawrence Foster.
Poe’s story was published in 1839, long before psychology began to be treated with the same discipline as the so-called “hard” sciences. Nevertheless, as the author of the Wikipedia page for this story observes, much of the plot can be described in terms of the language of modern psychology. However, the literary construct is equally forward-looking, involving an intricate web of tales within tales; and one of those tales is sung as a ballad. Finally, there is a climax in which the title reveals itself both figuratively and literally. All this is clearly the stuff from which opera can be made.
The older of the two operas on the program was not completed by the composer. Claude Debussy worked on “La chute de la maison Usher,” in one act consisting of two scenes originally planned for the Metropolitan Opera in New York, between 1908 and 1917; but he never finished it. SFO will be presenting the American professional (as opposed to academic) premiere of a reconstruction based on Debussy’s materials by Robert Orledge. When this score was first performed by WNO, Andrew Clements, writing for The Guardian, declared the music to be “truly seamless.” The other opera, also in one act, is by Gordon Getty. “Usher House” was given its world premiere by WNO and will receive its United States premiere by SFO.
Baritone Brian Mulligan will take on the role of Roderick Usher in both of these operas. Tenor Richard Croft had originally been announced to sing the role of Poe in “Usher House” and that of the doctor in “La chute de la maison Usher;” but he had to withdraw for personal reasons. He will be replaced by tenor Jason Bridges in the Getty opera and by tenor Joel Sorensen in the Debussy.
This double bill is being presented under the title The Fall of the House of Usher. It will be given only four performances, at 7:30 p.m. on December 8, 10, and 11, and at 2 p.m. on December 13. Further information may be found at the event page of this production on the SFO Web site. Tickets are priced from $26 to $381 (subject to change) and may be purchased through that same event page.
Tickets may also be purchased at the SFO Box Office in the War Memorial Opera House (301 Van Ness Avenue at the northwest corner of Grove Street) or by calling 415-864-3330. The Box Office is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Monday and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. It is open for telephone orders only on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Standing Room tickets go on sale for $10 (cash only) at 10 a.m. on the day of each performance.
In addition there will be an Insight Panel providing background for this new production. [update added 11/18, 9 a.m.: Thus far Getty, Foster, and Mulligan have been confirmed as participants, and the moderator will again be Dramaturge Kip Cranna. (Additional participants may be announced at a later date.)] It will take place on Monday, November 30, beginning at 6 p.m. Discussion among the panelists usually takes about 45 minutes, followed by a fifteen-minute Q&A with members of the audience. The venue will be Herbst Theatre at 401 Van Ness Avenue, on the southwest corner of McAllister Street. The event is free to SFO members and subscribers, as well as students with valid identification. Admission for all others is $5. SFO has created an Eventbrite event page for pre-registration for all categories.