The Broad Stage and LA Opera presented two recent operas by Gordon Getty featuring splendid singing in a Masterpiece Theatre haze of choreography, staging and projections. Given the intimate dimensions of The Broad Stage – capacity is only 499 – and the exhilarating multimedia concept, the performance had the feel of being live in a surround sound movie theater.

Keith Phares (Roderick Usher), Jamielyn Duggan (Madeline Usher) and Dominic Armstrong (Poe)
© Craig T Mathew

While Usher House and The Canterville Ghost may have been Oscar Wilde retro they turned out to be nearly as charming as their counterparts were the first time around. Both operas had a genuinely American feel to them – the cowboy lilt of a waltz or a simple populist tune – they also shared a common theme: of being haunted by inheritance. Of course they they come to different conclusions. Usher House ends anticlimactically in dust and a last echo of Rheingold; the Ghost in a Norman Rockwell hymn of peace.

In each, Getty's ability to write for singers trumps almost all his shortcomings. It's clear that the singers can't wait for their next big set piece, or their next bit of business, because they know that the audience will love them (if they sing beautifully) even if the vehicle is not yet Mozart. It made for a delicious, slightly overlong afternoon in which everybody on the stage, was magnetic, and the audience responded not only with applause at the end but a surprising volley of cheers.

Jamielyn Duggan (Madeline Usher) and Dominic Armstrong (Edgar Allan Poe)
© Craig T Mathew | LA Opera

The better of the two operas was the Usher House, which had its world première in 2014 at Welsh National Opera. Its title is a gracious gesture to distinguish it from the Poe story from which it is adapted; it needn't have worried. Getty has his own way with the very curious tale that is alternately intriguing, downright sexy, and just plain dolorous, all in a sort of comic bookish way. Keith Phares as Roderick Usher took over the stage and found in Dominic Armstrong's Poe his worthy equal. Dancer Jamielyn Duggan stole the show as Usher's wife; she entered in a terrible brace then came to life in a brilliant series of solos unintentionally perhaps echoing Olympia in Offenbach's The Tales of Hoffmann

Matthew Burns (Ghost of Sir Simon)
© Craig T Mathew | LA Opera

The Canterville Ghost had its moments. It was originally given by Oper Leipzig in 2015 in an incongruous double bill with Leoncavallo's Pagliacci, but some of the narrative was really too long and a series of scene changes as the end neared were longer than the scenes. Still, as in Usher, The casting was brilliant throughout. Jessica Ann Best as Mrs Otis showed just how magnificent and commanding a mezzo-soprano can be. Phares returned to lend a really open-hearted – what we used to call American – quality to Mr Otis. A refreshingly human Matthew Burns as the Ghost chewed the scenery just the right amount, and even threw in a ghastly pronunciation of "ghost" of all things. 

Conducted by Sara Jobin, the incoming Artistic Director of the Center for Contemporary Opera, the Orchestra played for two and half hours without missing a beat and featuring outstanding solos by the French horn near the end. With Getty's minimalist throbbing going on for much of the time, they hit only one uncertain patch and that maybe for half a measure. And though they numbered less than three dozen they sounded like a full symphony orchestra, JoAnn Turovsky's harp solos especially filling the hall.