Double descent into horror

House of Usher

In descent: Benjamin Bevan (Roderick) Joanna Jeffries (Lady Madeline)  and Jason Bridges (Poe) Pictures:  Stephen Cummiskey

The Fall of the House of Usher

Welsh National Opera


THIS dramatic double-bill featured two one act operas; Usher House by Gordon Getty, which saw its world stage premier in Cardiff last month and its French reflection of Claude Debussy’s incomplete opera La Chute de la Maison Usher, reconstructed by Robert Orledge.

Welsh National Opera captured the essence of Edgar Allen Poe’s 19th century  gothic tale with two spectacular performances.

It is a tale of a house with a dark and terrifying history, in which all of its inhabitants fall under its deep spell. In this, Edgar Allen Poe himself is a visitor to his friend, Roderick, who along with his twin sister is a victim to the houses chilling secrets and doomed curses. In both Opera’s the same outcome is unveiled by two different journeys.

Getty’s one act Opera, sung in English was a truly mesmerising experience. Every element of the performance would be sure to send chills down the spine. At first, the audience is exposed to a joltingly cold image of a single bird on top of a high building, with the silhouette of Jason Bridges as Edgar Allen Poe himself, giving a striking allusion to Poe’s work. This sets a haunting chill to the atmosphere for the story that is about to unfold.

The set is an awesome element that makes the chilling atmosphere seem all the more menacing. In both stories, we make the journey in and around the house of Usher along with the characters. Like Poe, we become a guest to the house, yearning to find out its gruesome history and tragic tales of the past.

Designer Niki Turner and David Haneke, designer of Video Projection, create an authentic and magical setting that exposes the dark horrors and secrets of the house. The characters look small and helpless against the epic scale of the projections. Here it is the house that casts its magic, as it has done for many centuries. The indisputable knowledge that each character possesses is no match for the power of the Usher house.


The atmosphere is completed by Getty’s breath-taking music, conducted by Lawrence Foster. The orchestra were faultless and an essential element of the plot providing the eerie backdrop to Poe’s tale of terror.

With a cast of five, including a dancer, each actor captured the intense emotion of their character as well as singing their role superbly. Poe, sung by Jason Bridges allowed us to see a remarkably sensible man, but yet with a sense of naivety, having no idea about the secrets of the ancient house.

Bridges worked wonderfully with Jason Bevon, who played his friend Roderick, owner of Usher house. Bevon, with excellent command of vocals, showed us the truly terrifying nature of a character marred by years of toil within the house.

Kevin Short’s account of Doctor Primus was truly menacing and a treat to watch. His villainous character was the perfect contrast amongst the unsuspecting habitants. Doctor Primus was the only character who seemed to know the cold truth of the house.

The same wonderfully dark and powerful sense of mystery was also captured within the second act with Debussy’s La Chute de la Maison Usher.

The second opera gave an even more dramatic account of Poe’s tale. There was definitely an element of poeticism being performed in French which gives exposure to the raw emotions displayed by each character.
Roderick, sung by Robert Hayward is sterner and more composed, while Mark Le Brocq’s Poe is still inquisitive but takes all what he learns within his stride. It is interesting to look at the same characters in a different light. Both characters work well together, especially at the sudden end when the curse of the house finally takes over.

David Pountney’s superb direction brings a haunting tale to vivid and intense life.

Elizabeth Halpin


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