A Ghost Story chamber opera
music and libretto by Gregg Kallor / adapted from Edgar Allan Poe’s short story
The Tell-Tale Heart is a one-act chamber opera based on the chilling short story by Edgar Allan Poe. Evoking the experience of a campfire ghost story and easily adaptable for both staged presentations and concert performances, this monodrama pulls audiences into the deeply disturbed mind of a narrator as she recounts and relives a recent murder – only to be haunted by the overwhelming sound of her victim’s persistently beating heart.
Cast: 1 singer
Ensemble: cello and piano
Duration: 25 minutes
Composer-pianist Gregg Kallor unveiled his setting of Edgar Allan Poe's terrifying short story, The Tell-Tale Heart, in a 100-year old vaulted crypt beneath the Church of the Intercession in Harlem, New York City in October 2016 - just before Halloween.
Kallor premiered the creepy tale with mezzo-soprano Elizabeth Pojanowski and cellist Joshua Roman in a semi-staging by director Sarah Meyers (Metropolitan Opera), with a lighting design by Shawn Kaufman. The two sold-out performances were presented by The Crypt Sessions in collaboration with On Site Opera.
Following on the heels of the acclaimed premiere, Kallor reprised the piece with soprano Melody Moore and Joshua Roman at SubCulture NY in January 2017. Moore, Roman, and Kallor recorded The Tell-Tale Heart with GRAMMY®-winning producer Adam Abeshouse; the album was released in October 2018. Opera News calls it "a tour-de-force performance, a true marriage of song, declamation, poetry and psychological thriller."
Mezzo-soprano Jennifer Johnson Cano performed in a new production of The Tell-Tale Heart with Roman and Kallor, directed by Sarah Meyers, with lighting design by Tláloc López-Watermann, in the Catacombs of Historic Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, NY in October 2018, presented by The Angel’s Share (video shown above). Johnson Cano, Roman, and Kallor performed a concert version of the piece in November 2018 at the University of Akron, presented by Tuesday Musical Association.
photos by Kevin Condon
"The concert concluded with a powerful performance featuring Jennifer Johnson Cano in Kallor’s The Tell-Tale Heart. Written for soprano, ‘cello and piano, this piece colorfully relays Poe’s haunting tale almost verbatim and in toto. It is simultaneously macabre and, at moments, darkly humorous... it is a grand tour de force for both singer and ensemble."
–Arlo McKinnon, Opera News
"The piece was the work of a sure dramatist, with a rich, tonally-based harmonic vocabulary that could give the story all of the dramatic range it needed. Vocal lines were ready and willing to navigate any and all twists in the story. The unifying leitmotif, to the naked ear, was a melody that began conventionally but quickly took on a time-stretching quality like that in Stravinsky’s Petroushka, seamlessly changing time signatures in ways that give the impression of the music slipping into a different zone. And that was appropriate. The narrator swears he’s sane but is clearly unmoored as he kills and dismembers an old man (His father? A landlord?) only because he doesn’t like the way one of his eyes looks. Yes, compelling stuff, particularly as sung by Jennifer Johnson Cano."
–David Patrick Stearns, Condemned to Music
"I can't think of a better opera to become a new Halloween tradition."
–James Jorden, The New York Observer
“Johnson Cano runs the gamut, her body twitching with the killer’s professed nervousness, even as she tries to convince us of her sanity. It’s a classy, voice, full-bodied and flexible, and she doesn’t miss a trick exploring the mind of a some-would-say-lunatic. Kallor’s efficient, multi-faceted score runs the gamut, from intimate confession through mounting paranoia to ultimate terror… a tour de force of contemporary music drama.”
–Clive Paget, Limelight
“Kallor transformed Poe’s 1843 tale of Gothic fiction into an operatic experience of epic emotional and musical proportions. As operatic heroines’ crash-burns go, the Narrator’s only real rivals are Strauss’s Elektra and Salome.
Kallor’s music is equally Straussian in scale and emotional impact. The vocal line… soared to ever increasing crescendos of sound and emotion. Piano and cello again combined to create the complex sonorities of a much larger ensemble… Kallor and Roman conjured up a ferocious, whirlwind of sound.
Cano's singing was volcanic: molten sound poured out of her. She was fearless in plumbing the depths of the Narrator’s psyche both vocally and dramatically. There were no props for her to rely on and only one lighting change, when a red wash coincided with the imagined beating of the victim’s heart that tormented her. It was just Cano and the music. She’s a voice, talent and temperament to be reckoned with.”
–Rick Perdian, Seen and Heard International
“As directed by Sarah Meyers, Jennifer Johnson Cano’s crazed killer had a subtlety, a reality as she progresses from obsession to plans, and finally to murder. It was a demanding tour-de-force… I found the retelling — and Cano’s amazing shifts in tone, as click-by-click she descended into madness, absolutely riveting.
...It’s my guess that everyone in attendance came away from this night feeling that this had been an extraordinary experience.”
–Matt Costello, Opera Wire
“Kallor’s sterling artistry and riveting sense of theater made this October journey to Hell and back an experience to savor.
Mezzo-soprano Jennifer Johnson Cano delivered an intense and fully engaged performance of Kallor’s setting of “The Tell-Tale Heart.” It was a tour de force, admirable for both Cano’s vocal and dramatic handling, and Kallor’s evident depth of insight into Poe’s exquisite proto-Freudian tale of narcissism, psychosis, and guilt.
Spooky, meaty stuff.”
–Charles Geyer, My Scena
“[Jennifer Johnson] Cano pulled out all the stops in The Tell-Tale Heart… It was a dynamic tour de force that ultimately demanded every bit of available firepower and range-stretching technique. In between those extremes, she delivered furtive puzzlement, and grisly determination, and finally a knockout portrait of sheer madness.”
–Alan Young, New York Music Daily
“[Jennifer Johnson] Cano's coolly homicidal story -- climaxing with the beating heart of a dismembered man (hidden beneath the floorboards) driving her over the edge -- had the audience in the palm of her hand. With her fierce emotions echoing the scintillating, urgent score, she took every opportunity to bring the role to life (and death).”
Richard Sasanow, BroadwayWorld
“[Jennifer Johnson] Cano, in her fearful monologue, in her drama to the edge of the stage, to her visceral voice, made the [The Tell-Tale Heart]… a thing of poetic horror.”
Harry Rolnick, ConcertoNet
"Kallor mesmerizes until he terrifies."
-Susan Hall, Berkshire Fine Arts
"The program, consisting of the short monodrama and two additional instrumental pieces (also by Kallor), moved nimbly from a sincere, emotional urgency, toward an effective climax of macabre hysteria."
-Patrick James, Parterre Box
"Fearsome tendrils of sound rose from the piano and Mr. Roman's strings, reaching into the listener's mind to disquieting effect.
As the packed house sat and listened, one could not help think of the weight of the earth around the stone crypt and wonder if the spirits of those interred at this site might be listening."
–Paul Pelkonen, Superconductor
“The Tell-Tale Heart is a terrific piece of music… gripping”
–George Grella, New York Classical Review
"Go if you dare."
–Stephanie Simon, New York 1 News
"Even after adding a second performance, the wait list for tickets tops 100."
–Amanda Angel, The Wall Street Journal
"The Crypt Sessions celebrates Halloween with the world premiere of Gregg Kallor's dramatic cantata based on Edgar Allan Poe's The Tell-Tale Heart."
–Christina Ha, NYC Arts
"The Tell-Tale Heart is a familiar tale to a lot of people - we want to give it to them in new clothes."
–Gregg Kallor, Schmopera interview