A Musical Ghost Story

music by Gregg Kallor / text adapted from Edgar Allan Poe’s short story

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 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 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 in a late-night performance at SubCulture NY in January 2017 (video shown above). Moore, Roman, and Kallor recorded The Tell-Tale Heart with GRAMMY®-winning producer Adam Abeshouse; the album was released in October 2018.

Mezzo-soprano Jennifer Johnson Cano performed the piece in a new production with Roman and Kallor, again directed by Sarah Meyers, with lighting design by Tláloc López-Watermann, in the Catacombs of Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, NY in October 2018, presented by The Angel’s Share. 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.

"I can't think of a better opera to become a new Halloween tradition."

-James Jorden, The New York Observer

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“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

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“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

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[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

"Just in time for Halloween, The Crypt Sessions, in collaboration with On Site Opera, came through with the hair-raising world premiere of Gregg Kallor's musical monodrama The Tell-Tale Heart, based on Edgar Allan Poe's classic chiller.

Kallor's vocal writing was refreshingly gracious and intelligible... allowing moments of lyricism, as well as providing hints for dramatic emphasis."

-Joanne Sydney Lessner, Opera News

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"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

"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 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