Wolf Trap Opera Company / Inscape / Joseph Li

Philip Glass: The Fall of the House of Usher

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Although one wouldn't have guessed it from his early output, Philip Glass emerged as a major opera composer in the 1980s and never really slowed down, with some 30 operas in his catalog by 2020. Several are emerging as more significant than others, and among this group is The Fall of the House of Usher, composed in 1987. Although close in time to Glass' monumental trilogy about Einstein, Gandhi, and Akhnaten, the opera signaled a new direction that pointed toward his more variegated later style. It remains Glass' only opera drawing on classic literature from before the 20th century, and it would be ideal for collegiate productions: it moves along fast, requires only a small chamber group, and is plenty exciting in its climactic second act. Glass' trademark arpeggios are there, but they are made to serve a variety of purposes, from accompanying chunks of Edgar Allan Poe's text to depicting the characters as they get crazier. Glass cooks up several dramatic masterstrokes, including making Madeleine Usher a spectral figure musically characterized only by vocalises, and here too Glass inflects his classic language. This Wolf Trap Opera production, with the Inscape Chamber Orchestra led by Joseph Li, was recorded live in 2017, and the singers catch the energy of the work. A lot of choreography, and its attendant noise, went into this production, but Wolf Trap Recordings contributes unusually clear live sound. On the short-list of complaints would be the multiple misspellings of Poe's name in the graphics. A fine revival of a Glass opera that is increasingly looking like one of the major ones.

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