Early in the 21st century, the American Lyric Theater, a New York company devoted to the encouragement of new works, had a fine idea: Why not celebrate the upcoming 200th birthday of Edgar Allan Poe by commissioning a group of operas on Poe-ish themes?
Poe, who lived from 1809 to 1849, was America’s master of the macabre, and the one-act-opera form seemed just about right for creating and briefly sustaining a sense of horror.
On Sunday afternoon, the Fort Worth Opera performed two of those operas as the second and third entries in its 2016 festival. The venue was Scott Theatre at the Fort Worth Community Arts Center rather than the larger Bass Hall.
One of the aims of the Lyric Theater’s Poe project was to create works that Poe himself might have been the author of — if he had been a 21st-century writer of music as well as literary fiction. In other words, not musical settings of stories by Poe, but pieces that pay tribute to the Poe tradition.
The Fort Worth Opera’s selections do that.
The characters in Buried Alive, the first of Sunday afternoon’s offerings, include a gravedigger, an undertaker and two assistant undertakers. Poe would have approved. The title is close to that of the Poe work that inspired the tale: The Premature Burial. The operatic authors are composer Jeff Myers and librettist Quincy Long.
The plot introduces a note of caution: Are those people working on you really emergency-room technicians, as they say they are, or something much more sinister?
The afternoon’s second opera, by composer Patrick Soluri and librettist Deborah Brevoort, was Embedded — not a Poe title, though there’s a mention of a wine bar, Amontillados, that’s an obvious reference to Poe’s The Cask of Amontillado.
The plot of Embedded is very up-to-date. It involves terrorism, and how far an aging TV anchor is willing to go to preserve her position against the ambitions of a pretty young rival. In general, the plot is a sardonic commentary on the state of modern mass communications.
There’s one Poe element missing from both of these operas: horror, though Embedded comes closest to achieving it. Buried Alive loses tension because the production is kind of campy, inducing laughter more than shivers. Embedded stays serious and reaches the afternoon’s emotional climax with a virtuoso performance by soprano Caroline Worra as the aging TV anchor.
The two works are intended to be presented as a set (each one ran about 40 minutes) and the same cast of six performed in both.
In general, the cast members were young, musically gifted and dramatically adept. They included, in addition to Worra, Nathan Stark, Christopher Burchett, Anna Laurenzo, Maren Weinberger and Brian Wallin in Buried Alive and Burchett, Wallin, Laurenzo, Weinberger and Stark in Embedded.
Tyson Deaton conducted a chamber orchestra that contributed positively to the shifting moods of the afternoon.
Directors were Lawrence Edelson (Buried Alive) and Sam Helfrich (Embedded). Designers Zane Pihlstrom, Joshua Epstein and S. Katy Tucker made effective use of the Scott Theatre’s limited space and other resources. Twelve TV monitors added spooky effects, including a large eyeball that shifted menacingly. Poe probably would have liked that, too.
One negative was the lack of text projections. As usual in such a situation, comprehension of high women’s voices tended to be most affected.
The next performance is 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.
- 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Friday and May 3; 2 p.m. Saturday and May 7
- Scott Theatre at the Fort Worth Community Arts Center, 3505 W. Lancaster Ave.
- 817-731-0726; www.fwopera.org