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Roderick Usher (Brian Mulligan) in La Chute de la maison Usher. Photo by Cory Weaver.

Roderick Usher (Brian Mulligan) in La Chute de la maison Usher. Photo by Cory Weaver.

Gordon Getty, Usher House (2014)
Based on: “The Fall of the House of Usher” by Edgar Allan Poe
Setting: Disneyland’s The Haunted Mansion
Sung in: English

Claude Debussy, La Chute de la Maison Usher (1908–1917, 2006)
Based on: “The Fall of the House of Usher” by Edgar Allan Poe
Setting: The lost castle of M. C. Escher
Sung in: French

Plot in 101 words or less: Open on a raven. Strike that, reverse it. Open on a castle inhabited by the last of the Ushers—Roderick and his twin sister Madeline. Madeline is dying of a mysterious illness the doctor can neither identify nor cure. A friend arrives to distract Roderick but they both seem distracted by Madeline. Hey, you can’t spell twincest without twin! Madeline dies and—despite her suspiciously rosy cheeks—is buried. While the friend reads to a distraught Roderick, a bloody Madeline appears, having clawed her way out of a premature grave. The House of Usher collapses around them. And, rain.

Madeline (Jamielyn Duggan) cowers between Roderick (Brian Mulligan) and Edgar Allan Poe (Jason Bridges). Photo by Cory Weaver.

Madeline (Jamielyn Duggan) cowers between Roderick (Brian Mulligan) and Edgar Allan Poe (Jason Bridges). Photo by Cory Weaver.

Despite “The Fall of the House of Usher” being one of my least favorite Poe stories, I had high hopes for this one. Alas, both parts of this San Francisco Opera double bill fell flat, particularly the first half, composed by Gordon Getty, which was an unholy mishmash of horror clichés and unnecessary backstory.

It didn’t start well, with the audience laughing at the opening tableau of Edgar Allan Poe (serving as narrator) and a raven, though I found it quite striking. As for the rest of the production, the only thing I liked about Getty’s contribution was the dancing of Jamielyn Duggan who plays Madeline (a role sung offstage by Adler Fellow Jacqueline Piccolino).

Edgar Allan Poe (Jason Bridges) opens Usher House. Photo by Cory Weaver.

Edgar Allan Poe (Jason Bridges) opens Usher House. Photo by Cory Weaver.

The second half fared a little better, as the more interesting musical composition (being a “reconstruction and orchestration” by Robert Orledge of Claude Debussy’s unfinished opera). Brian Mulligan, who played Roderick in both halves of this production, finally had a chance to shine, as did Piccolino, finally getting onstage as Madeline.

Madeline Usher (Jacqueline Piccolino) in La Chute de la maison Usher. Photo by Cory Weaver.

Madeline Usher (Jacqueline Piccolino) in La Chute de la maison Usher. Photo by Cory Weaver.

Most of the video productions were a bit much for my taste (and what is it with blood this season?) but I think they could have been used effectively if the two halves had been more consistent. The rain was cool. I’d love to see that in another production because I’m pretty sure this one will not be coming back.

Nevermore.

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