The Masque of Edgar Allan Poe An Opera in One Act (2015) 70’
Libretto by Lee Upton
Full video from the Lafayette performance:
Full video from the University of Delaware performance:
The cast for the first performances:
Poe: Christopher Jentzsch (tenor)
Woman: Shoshana Lieberman (soprano)
Hostess: Kaitlyn Tierney (mezzo-soprano)
The Red Death: Travis Lucas (baritone)
Director: Blake Smith
Conductor: James Allen Anderson
Audio of the Workshop performance:
The cast for the workshop performance:
Poe: Blake Smith (tenor)
Woman: Laura Kosar (soprano)
Hostess: Halley Pearlstein (mezzo-soprano)
The Red Death: Kyle Yampiro (baritone)
Piano: Julie Nishimura
4 voices; Flute, Oboe, Clarinet, Alto Saxophone, Bassoon, Piano, 2 Percussion, Strings
CAST OF CHARACTERS
Edgar Allan Poe (tenor)
Poe is a professor and a literary scholar of some repute who has studied the work of Edgar Allan Poe so fervently that he has in a very real sense become Edgar Allan Poe. His altered identity has led to a life of isolation and loneliness, and he longs for someone for someone who can accept this identity.
Woman (“Annabel Lee”) (soprano)
Woman is abandoned at the party by a friend who immediately leaves with someone else. She knows no one, and is at the end of a series of bad relationships that leave her feeling somewhat jaded and alone.
The Red Death (baritone)
The Red Death is a personification of loneliness, brought to the party by the three other characters. For most of the story, it is unclear whether or not The Red Death is actually physically present, becoming “visible” by the end of the 11:00 pm scene.
The Hostess is often seen bustling about—with trays of food, bottles of wine, exiting frequently, disappearing for several minutes and then emerging, sometimes comically. She is too busy hosting to form any meaningful relationships with anyone at the party, or, for that matter, in her own life.
Contemporary era. A private party. A table of wine bottles should be visible. Guests should be behind CHARACTERS. At points the guests should not move or else move very slowly or be shown talking together (without sound). The dancing should at most points approximate what people might actually do at a party. After each chiming of the bells (except for the chiming at midnight) the guests should engage in light laughter.
The Masque of Edgar Allan Poe was inspired by Poe’s short story “The Masque of the Red Death.” In Poe’s story, a local nobleman invites a number of guests to his house in an attempt to isolate themselves from the “Red Death.” This is futile, of course, and by the end all the guests end up dead. In my opera, the “Red Death” character is a personification of loneliness, brought to the party by the two main characters (a professor who has studied Poe so fervently that he believes he is Poe, and a woman who is stuck there after being abandoned at the party by a friend) and the hostess (who is too busy hosting to be able to form any meaningful relationships with anyone at the party). The action focuses on the developing relationship between Poe and the Woman, while the Red Death watches them, becomes angry and jealous, and eventually unites the two in the afterlife. The libretto for this opera was written by Professor Lee Upton: it has been a joy to set her words in this project, and I am profoundly grateful to Professor Upton for her artistry, insight, and flexibility.
The action takes place over the course of one evening. The scenes are loosely tied to the time at which the events occur, but the individual scenes are not intended to depict a full presentation of chronological time. The individual scenes are separated by the chiming of a large clock.
Prelude (7:30 pm)
The opera begins with a brief orchestral prelude. The eerie, other-worldly music fades into “reality,” as the Hostess welcomes guests (who all but ignore her as they walk by) to her party. Woman describes her arrival at the party. She looks over the room and notices Poe, to whom she is immediately attracted. Despite this, she begins to talk her self out of meeting him, wondering “What is wrong with me?”
Poe and Woman meet, rather awkwardly. After Poe and Woman introduce themselves, the scene switches to The Red Death, who interrupts the conversation. After his monologue, we rejoin the conversation between Poe and Woman. As the two split apart to move about the party, Hostess checks on Poe and offers him hors d’oeurvres. On the other side of the room, Woman laments her loneliness.
Still on opposite sides of the room, Poe and Woman sing a duet and exchange monologues, to each other but in the midst of conversations with other guests. The Red Death watches them intently, and openly mocks them. Hostess scurries about, providing refreshments to her guests while at the same time expressing her frustration about her inability to interact with her guests. While she sings, The Red Death follows closely on her heels without her knowing.
Hostess continues her laments, becoming more frustrated with her apparent lack of hosting success. She now offers Woman something from her tray, which is quickly discarded by Woman. Poe asks Woman about it, and they converse. Their dialog becomes more personal, and the two share more intimate details about themselves. While this continues, The Red Death becomes more and more agitated.
The Red Death follows Poe and Woman as they continue to converse. Their duet leads to an extended conversation, and the two seem to notice The Red Death character for the first time. At the climax of this conversation, Poe speaks his most beautiful lines, and Woman falls for Poe. The Red Death becomes insanely jealous, and begins threatening everyone. Hostess interrupts The Red Death (seeing him for the first time) with her happiness about how well the party is going now—this pushes The Red Death over the edge.
Poe and Woman find themselves somewhere else, confused and disoriented, united but alone together.
Autumn Winds for High Voice and Piano (2011) 30’
Text: 15 Haiku by Matsuo Basho (1644-1694)
Audio: (Coming Soon)
Autumn Winds is a collection of settings of haiku by Matsuo Basho (1644-1694): each of the poems selected contains the phrase “autumn wind.” This phrase acts as a kind of refrain in the work, and to reinforce that idea I treated the primary motivic material in a cyclical manner—in fact, in many ways this collection of songs is as closely related to the Beethovian Variation Set as it is to the Schubertian Song Cycle. This was very much intentional: I wanted to allow a strong sense of unity to emerge between the songs while at the same time allowing each song to develop in its own way.
The songs themselves are very atmospheric and rhythmically free. They are also short, in part due to the shortness of the text each song uses. I wanted to emphasize the “smallness” of the text, but I also wanted to allow the beauty of these images to transcend the form which contains them.
Lux aeterna for Women's Chorus (SSSAAA) (2008) 8’
For the University of Delaware University Singers, Krystal Rickard, director
Lux aeterna luceat eis, Domine,
Cum sanctis tuis in aeternum,
Quia pius es.
Requiem aeternam dona eis,
Domine, et lux perpetua eis.
“May everlasting light shine upon them, O Lord, with thy saints in eternity, for thou art merciful. Grant them eternal rest, O Lord, and may everlasting light shine upon them.”
Psalm 46 for Antiphonal Choruses, Organ, and Handbells (2007) 9’
Commissioned by St. Matthew Lutheran Church. Alan Hack, Director of Music
Audio: Coming Soon
Gaudete for Chorus and Organ (2006) 7’
For the Susquehanna University Chamber Singers, Cyril Stretansky, director
Text: Anon., from Piae Cantiones, ca. 1582
Gaudete, gaudete Christos est natus
Ex Maria virginae, gaudete.
Rejoice, Rejoice! Christ is born of the Virgin Mary. Rejoice!
Bergstresser Songs for Mezzo-soprano and Piano (2004) 16’
Commissioned by Emily Bullock and Holly Roadfeldt-O'Riordan
Text by Stephanie Bergstresser
|III. Song to Myself|
Kyrie Eleison for Chorus (2004)
Audio: (Coming Soon)
234 Williams Center for the Arts
Copyright © 2016 by Kirk O’Riordan. All rights reserved.