And one more thing...

There might be some personal nonsense in here, too...


Design Approach


I thought in terms of the enthusiasm of doing it.  I didn't think about whether I was ready.


I'm building on several key points:


I.  Adhering faithfully to the story as written...

The Fall of the House of Usher has inspired a number of adaptations for film and stage, where "inspired" is the key word.  Most stray from the tale, some so wildly that only the name is familiar.  This is understandable to a degree, given the brevity of the story and sparseness of dialogue, which make it unsuited to a feature-length production without some sort of padding.  Perhaps ironically, Poe is so successful in evoking a mood of gloom and madness that this alone — or the very name Poe itself! — inspires adaptation, rather than the specific characters and setting.  And sometimes, well, it's hard to tell what folks were thinking (I'm looking at you, Ken Russell!)
 I'll be restricting the scope of this work to Poe's own, introducing no new characters, sub-plots, motivations, or events.  Fortunately, opera encourages musical "space" in the text, so ten minutes of straight dialogue can easily become thirty minutes of performance.


II.  Using Poe's own words wherever plausible...

I'm crafting the libretto myself (for now), and insist on drawing text primarily from the story, and as needed from Poe's other works and personal correspondence.  Usher is a success in part because of the emphasis on highly detailed and descriptive narrative over dialogue.  Opera delights in exposition, asides, and revealing normally unvoiced thought, making it nicely suited to a tale told as Usher is.
 Still, the events unfold over a couple weeks, and more character interaction is suggested and summarized than is actually presented to the reader.  This means inventing spoken text, and for that I'll rely heavily on material from outside Usher.  Thankfully, there are a number of other sources of dialogue in Poe's output.
 Usher is a voracious reader with odd, eclectic tastes, and he and the narrator read aloud to one another during the visit — perfect for my purposes.  Several tomes are specified in the story, and could prove helpful for both creating dialogue and defining Usher's nature, including Belphegor by Machiavelli, City of the Sun by Campanella, and the Vigiliae Mortuorum secundum Chorum Ecclesiae Maguntinae.  (Many had believed Poe invented this last title, as he did with others in the story, and as Lovecraft would with his Necronomicon, but some scholarly work on the subject has turned up the source — whether I can find an English translation remains to be seen.  Gods of the Internet, may this link never be broken.)
 In a pinch, I'll draw ideas from works that inspired Poe and specifically Usher, notably The Castle of Oranto by Horace Walpole, The Robber's Castle by Heinrich Clauren (the link is to the English translation by John Hardman, likely the verion Poe read), and Das Majorat by Ernst (E.T.A.) Hoffmann.
 Where I create wholly original text, I'll make every effort to keep it contemporaneous and appropriate.


III.  Marrying a B-Movie horror aesthetic to a more "serious" composition style...

I imagine this opera first and foremost as a film, modeled after the low-budget, melodramatic, and often lurid horror flicks of the 1950s and '60s — a staple of American International Pictures, the Hammer Horror series from Britain's Hammer Films, and my childhood weekends.  My fondness for them remains, though colored by sentiment and a more mature appreciation for their quaintness and retrospectively kitsch value.
 Many of the scores were, like their films, middle of the road and unremarkable, but there was also some dynamite music in the mix.  Was it Bartok?  Berg?  Stravinsky?  No.  But evocative?  Effective?  Fun?  My, yes.
 I'll be exploring ways to offer a nod to those diverse and wonderful — and occasionally shlockey — scores, primarily in terms of orchestration and effects.  But only a little tongue, a little cheek; I intend to treat Poe's material with sincere respect and seriousness.


IV.  Writing specifically for a filmed rendering...

Approaching the opera as a movie eliminates some concerns about staging and storytelling devices.  Scene breaks and set changes are done through dissolves.  Sound is pre-recorded and edited for best result.  Lip-syncing actors move freely about complex sets without compromising vocal projection.  Voice-overs can replace potentially clumsy asides (perhaps a la David Lynch's Dune).  The door is opened to some presentation choices difficult or impossible to achieve on stage — flashbacks, double exposures, etc.  And best of all, when it's done, it's "perfect, for ever and ever", not subject to the "vagaries" of interpretation and reinvention.  It's not that I wouldn't like to see it staged — I would — but the production choices may have to be somewhat more "imaginative" (or minimal?) than usual to accommodate what was designed for the screen.
 The primary drawback is in the complexity and expense of a film production compared to that of a theatrical one.  When the opera is completed, I won't be shopping it for staging, but instead looking for capital and talent a make a film — a low-budget film under 60 minutes in length, but still a whole movie.  Not a small undertaking.  I'm fortunate in knowing a number of artists and creative professionals who also enjoy the movies inspiring my vision for Usher, people with expertise in film and theater.  (Whether they could be convinced to work on this project is another matter entirely!)  But even with their involvement and advice it will be a monumental effort, one thus far outside my experience.
 Would I "settle" for a staging?  Of course!  But in my mind's eye, it's Arkoff and Nicholson all the way.