Poe musical

Nevermore, a musical based on Edgar Allan Poe’s poetry and short stories, opens tomorrow in Arlington, Virginia. The composer says it’s “set inside Poe’s head.”

The show isn’t the first conceived in response to Poe’s work. In the introduction to The Fall of the House of Usher and Other Writings: Poems, Tales, Essays, and Reviews, David Galloway writes about Debussy’s lifelong preoccupation with Poe.

As a young man Debussy attempted to set [“The Fall of the House of Usher”] in the form of a ‘symphony on psychologically developed themes’, and though the project was never realized in those terms, Poe’s work continued to intrigue the composer, providing inspiration for his opera of Pelléas, as it had for Maeterlinck’s drama with its over-refined hero ‘so pale and feeble and overcome by destiny’.

Later Debussy cherished the idea of composing an opera based on Poe’s story, and although he died before the project was completed, during the last years of his life it haunted and inspired him; in letters he speaks of his ‘obsession’, the ‘almost agonizing tyranny’ which Poe exerts over him; his own phraseology begins to echo Poe’s, and in a mood of depression he could write to André Caplet:

I have recently been living in the House of Usher which is not exactly the place where one can look after one’s nerves — just the opposite. One develops the curious habit of listening to the stones as if they were in conversation with each other and of expecting houses to crumble to pieces as if this were not only natural but inevitable. Moreover, if you were to presume I should confess that I like these people more than many others … I have no confidence in the normal, well-balanced type of persons.


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