OPERA NEWS - The Tell-Tale Heart
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KALLOR: The Tell-Tale Heart

CD Button Moore. Kallor, piano; Roman, cello. Single Noon Records SNR4

RECORDINGS TELL TALE HEART COVER 219
Critics Choice Button 1015

THIS PREMIERE RECORDING of Gregg Kallor’s compact, unsettling yet chillingly delightful 2016 monodrama, based on Edgar Allan Poe’s short story, features the astounding soprano Melody Moore as Poe’s anonymous narrator, cellist Joshua Roman and Kallor himself on the piano. 

The composer makes a few cuts to Poe’s text to focus on the narrative. His Tell-Tale Heart begins with the “low, quick, dull sound” of the dead man’s heart—a relentless, descending two-note motive in the piano’s lowest depths. But Kallor does more than just show-and-tell; he focuses on a heightened, melodic recitation of the text, with the music supplying much of the psychological subtext and building suspense with jump scares of sound, then leveling into simple, detached conversation. There’s unexpected humor, too, as in the jazzy, jaunty dance of the piano and cello under the speaker’s description of dismembering the body, leading to a slow build to a frenzied explosion on the final confession, “It is the beating of his hideous heart!” 

Moore’s performance is disquietingly alluring. She and Kallor turn Poe’s canonic text into the terrifying, exhibitionist confession of a sociopath. Her incisive diction, specific musicality and full-throttle singing, punctuated by bone-chilling laughs and whispers, make this a tour-de-force performance, a true marriage of song, declamation, poetry and psychological thriller. Throughout, she is in close dialogue with Roman, who’s in complete command of his cello as a musical and dramatic tool. Kallor is the Poe in this equation, the man behind the scenes, pulling the strings and calling the cues from his piano. 

Also included on the album are Kallor’s eleven settings of poems by Teasdale, Wylie, Crane, Twain, Yeats and contemporary American poet Clementine von Radics. Each is a surprising discovery. Kallor is a true craftsman of American art song in the tradition of Copland, Rorem and Hoiby. If The Tell-Tale Heart wasn’t proof enough, these songs show that he excels as a miniaturist, creating vivid worlds and characters in mere minutes. He also knows how to choose his poets. The works selected for these songs are by nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century American poets, with two exceptions—Yeats’s “The Mermaid” and von Radics’s “A Prayer.” Melody Moore sang the latter’s premiere at Carnegie Hall in 2016, and its inclusion here is a treat. Moore seems to live Radics’s frank and deeply human lyrics, and Kallor’s mix of blooming melodies and simple but delicately charged utterances is perfectly tailored to both the singer and the poet. —Steven Jude Tietjen



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