[35] OPERA MACABRE: EDGAR ALLAN POE (Philadelphia Opera Collective): Fringe review

Philadelphia Opera Collective’s OPERA MACABRE: EDGAR ALLAN POE Fringe review
Baritone Chad Somers with Michael Lienhard on accordion in OPERA MACABRE: EDGAR ALLAN POE (Photo credit: Harish Pathak)

An original chamber opera by the exciting young Philadelphia Opera Collective, OPERA MACABRE—which fittingly opened on Friday the 13th!—captures all the hair-raising suspense and psychological disturbance of Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories (“The Fall of the House of Usher’ and “The Black Cat”) and unsettled mind (as if an “after-dream of the revelers on opium”). Employing the considerable talents of theater artists Brenna Geffers (movement consultation, libretto, and direction), Ross Beschler (libretto), Alison Hoban (libretto and puppets) and Jordan Mottram (puppetry), along with those of the POC’s own impressive company members (music by Reese Revak, librettos by Michael Lienhard and Isabel Lowney Brouhard), the approach is collaborative and experimental. This is a new generation of opera—intimate and creative, while ever masterful in music and voice–that will appeal to both aficionados and newcomers alike.

The close-range performance, often mere inches from the front-row seats, is personal and inclusive, at times directly addressing the audience (Kirsten Kunkle’s poetic intermezzo of The Music of the Spheres and Chadwick Somers’ chilling Narrator in The Black Cat). The clarity of the English-language librettos and staging, and the expressiveness of the singers’ faces, gestures, and postures (Lienhard, Somers, and Crystal Charles are particularly eloquent), render the narratives and emotions fully accessible and comprehensible, as the tension and madness of Poe’s characters increase with each note, in a shocking crescendo of horror and cruelty. The clever use of props (black, white, and red fabric suggest everything from a shroud, to a spectral presence, to a brick wall, to spurting blood) and a minimal scenic design (a few pieces of period-style furniture, with a flowing black curtain as a backdrop) evokes the mood of a 19th-century salon. OPERA MACABRE fully succeeds in transporting the audience to another time and a different state of mind. [Playground at the Adrienne] September 13-20, 2013, fringearts.ticketleap.com/opera-macabre-edgar-allan-poe.

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