Trailer: Multimedia Cinematic Reimagining of THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER Available to Stream 1/29

Usher Banner 2 750x422 - Trailer: Multimedia Cinematic Reimagining of THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER Available to Stream 1/29

Boston Lyric Opera’s (BLO) newly commissioned film version of Philip Glass’ opera The Fall of the House of Usher is a gripping, ground-breaking new creation that launches Edgar Allan Poe’s Victorian gothic horror tale into modern times. Using hand-drawn and stop-motion animation techniques alongside curated archival footage, this version of Usher tells the mysterious story with Glass’ complete score and Arthur Yorinks’ full libretto, while building a new, cinematic framework around it.

Give the creepy trailer a spin and read more about the film below.

Helmed by film and opera director James Darrah, and boasting a fresh treatment by Spanish screenwriter Raúl Santos that places the opera within the story of a young immigrant girl named Luna who is detained on the U.S. border, The Fall of the House of Usher debuts exclusively on BLO’s, starting January 29th, 2021.

The cast of Usher includes: Chelsea Basler as Madeline Usher; Jesse Darden as Roderick Usher; Daniel Belcher as William; Christon Carney as the Physician; and Jorgeandrés Camargo as the Servant. BLO Music Director David Angus conducts the score. Production Designer is Yuki Izumihara. Director of Photography is Pablo Santiago. Costume and Doll Designer is Camille Assaf. Art Director/Lead Designer (Luna) is Yee Eun Nam. Lead Animator is Will Kim; Associate Animator is Jian Lee. Lead Illustrator is Rodrigo Muñoz.

The Glass and Yorinks opera premiered in 1988 at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Mass. It follows the Boston-born Poe’s inscrutable short story about twin siblings Roderick Usher and his ill sister, Madeline, who live reclusively in a mysterious mansion. A third main character (unnamed in Poe’s story, but called William in Yorinks’ libretto) is summoned by his friend Roderick to come to the Usher house and help him. Like the source material, the opera maintains an opaque approach to the narrative, embracing the main story of a mentally and physically troubled man caring for his sister and feeling trapped in, and by, his familial home. There are suggestions, but not details, about the relationships between the characters. The Ushers’ illnesses are not defined – clues hint at mental health, addiction, or supernatural causes. The oppressive house itself may, or may not, be to blame for the inhabitants’ problems.

Glass’ music is alternately propulsive, ethereal, and tension-filled. Roderick, William and peripheral characters build the narrative through song, while Madeline’s voice is wordless, floating in, out and through the small orchestral arrangement. While Poe’s story is centered in the work, much of the music contains no singing.

Screenwriter Santos leaned into the ambiguities of Poe’s original story and Yorinks’ libretto, dropping the opera’s main story into an unexpected contemporary context. Here, the mysterious Usher twins, William, and the cursed house itself, are fantastical figments in the imagination of Luna, a mute immigrant child held in a detention facility at the border between the United States and Mexico.

Like Poe’s original story, Darrah says, the opera’s post-modernist music and obscure libretto elements evoke emotion rather than create a clear narrative — making it ripe for interpretation. “We’ve created a context for the story that feels worthy of being out in the world right now,” Darrah says. “USHER touches on issues we still grapple with today — family heritage and lineage, hidden desires, mental health and illness. I think this unique format further enhances the intention of the opera, and brings a 100-year-old story into the present day.”

Santos took advantage of the opera’s unusual structure, with its passages of wordless music, to inject visual stories about Luna’s past, the harrowing journey with her mother to escape a threat in their home country, and her idealized view of the U.S. as seen through American television reruns.

The film switches frequently between its narrative strands. Luna’s story is told in alternately sweet and surreal hand-drawn animations that bring to life the drawings she makes while detained. The Ushers’ story is told through stop-motion filmmaking, and from inside an abandoned dollhouse Luna finds. The stories share plot points: Madeline’s death reflects that of a small pet Luna secretly carries with her; a treacherous river crossing mirrors a violent storm at the Usher house. Archival footage, ranging from vintage television ads to recent news reports from the border, offers commentary and historical context.

“Raúl created a trio of intersecting art films,” Darrah says. “Each one amplifies, contextualizes and enriches the others.”

The film’s dreamlike immediacy was realized by a diverse team of animators and artists — many of whom have their own remarkable immigration stories. Santos says the team felt connected to the new story of Luna and offered him ideas from their personal experiences to incorporate.

Coronavirus restrictions made for a music recording session unlike any other in BLO’s history. Following municipal and state protocols enhanced by expert advice from local world-class medical doctors who serve on BLO’s Health Task Force for Opera Artists, members of the BLO Orchestra recorded the score under the guidance of Music Director David Angus, who monitored the session remotely from his main home in England. Angus said Glass’ precise compositions allowed orchestra members to follow a click track for timing instead of relying solely on a live conductor. Singers recorded their parts in separate sessions, listening to the recorded score.

“This is an unusual creative time for Boston Lyric Opera,” says Esther Nelson, BLO’s Stanford Calderwood General and Artistic Director. “This pandemic has demonstrated how inventive artists respond with ingenuity to a crisis. Music Director David Angus brilliantly shaped the music, remotely. Our creative team embraced the idea and design for a film version in the early days of the pandemic. Thankfully we were able to keep many of that team, and the original cast, in the transition from stage to film. I’m equally pleased about the fresh creative alliances this film has brought to us: illustrators, cinematographers, animators, and film editors are our new colleagues. BLO has always prioritized creation of new work and new productions through a robust commissioning program. This groundbreaking production opens an exciting new door for that work.”

The Fall of the House of Usher debuts on BLO’s streaming service, starting Jan. 29, 2021. It is made available on-demand ($10 for a seven-day rental). subscribers can access the film two days earlier, on Jan. 27. (Subscriptions and information about student discounts are available at is available at the website and through branded apps available on Apple, Google, Amazon and Roku platforms.

USHER The House of Usher PHOTO  Boston Lyric Opera 1024x576 - Trailer: Multimedia Cinematic Reimagining of THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER Available to Stream 1/29

Are you excited to check out BLO’s The Fall of the House of Usher later this month? Let us know in the comments below or on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram! You can also carry on the convo with me personally on Twitter @josh_millican.



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