Review Archive

A complete archive of reviews of works by Gordon Getty.

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Beauty Come Dancing, Records International

Records International, Beauty Come Dancing
September 2018 Catalogue

As we've seen before (05K089, 05T071 etc.) Getty has a special relationship with the human voice - he contemplated becoming a professional singer at one point early in his musical career - and nowhere is this shown to better advantage than in these fine choral settings of poets with whom he feels a particular affinity, with their sumptuous orchestral accompaniments. 

Getty is a Romantic through and through; had he been born a century earlier he would have fit right in with the pre-Raphaelites and their cohorts throughout the arts, and their idols including Keats, whom he sets twice here. Most of the poems here explore themes of unrequited or distantly recalled loves and beauty fled but passionately celebrated in memory. The composer's style is chordal and harmonic; melismatic, complicated contrapuntal lines are not for him, let alone unusual vocal effects. What he does so very well is the clear presentation of the text, gratefully set for the voices and illustrated with music that faultlessly matches the mood of the narrative and its dramatic content. He is no mean poet himself; the longest song here, and two others are to his own texts. The Old Man in the Night takes up a quarter of the disc in its reflective, autumnal tale of the memory of a past passion as night closes in on an old man's life, while Beauty Come Dancing expands on the themes of its title, making it a perfect foil to Masefield's Ballet Russe. Dowson's Cynara and Keats' Belle Dame sans merci show the composer's range, their darker undertones bringing out searching harmonies and original, descriptive orchestration, while Byron's Assyrian cohorts descend on Jerusalem with fine rhythmic vigor and high romantic drama. Texts included. Netherlands Radio Choir, Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra;  James Gaffigan.

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Beauty Come Dancing, Music Web International

Paul Corfield Godfrey, Beauty Come Dancing
Music Web International

In his booklet note for this release, Gordon Getty observes that he has avoided musical settings of the words of living poets apart from himself, “because I prefer to avoid disagreement.” But in the choral works in this collection he has certainly not shied away from competition with other composers who have tackled some of the same very well-known poems:

Dowson's Cynara (so memorably set by Delius), Byron's The destruction of Sannacherib (by Mussorgsky, no less), and a whole raft of other composers who have engaged with Keats' La belle dame sans merci – Armstrong Gibbs, Hadley, O'Neill, Scott and Stanford in particular. All the works on this disc were written between the years 2009 and 2015, and therefore postdate the choral music by Getty featured on earlier releases.

The title of this collection, however, comes from one of Getty's own poems, Beauty come dancing, as well as the two opening tracks The old man in the night and The old man in the morning which appear to be autobiographical in inspiration. The first is by a very substantial margin the longest single work on this disc (over a quarter of an hour) and the orchestral accompaniment is vivid even though the xylophone, tubular bells and vibraphone are too prominent in the mix. It seems odd that the quoted voice of the old man is taken by the men of the chorus rather than a soloist, but the contrasts of the poem are nevertheless well reflected in music that responds with sympathy to the dialogue and ruminations of the narrator. All one might wish for is a more substantial melodic profile rather than the Janáçek-like ostinato which underlines some of the word-setting, although the almost Brucknerian climax towards the end is impressive. Similar musical material is featured in The old man in the morning, which is a rather beautiful miniature written four years later.

The setting of John Masefield's Ballet russe has a sense of rhythmic gawkiness which perhaps sits rather oddly with its subject, but then the poem itself, with its juxtaposition of a “Chopin air” with “Roland's horn”, is peculiar in its own right. The arrangement of Shenandoah also has its unexpected moments, with an orchestral accompaniment that seems to lead an independent existence and which in the third verse provides a really chilly frisson at the words “I love your daughter”. By comparison the setting of Keats' There was a naughty boy is relatively conventional, with the orchestral accompaniment reduced to sporadic commentary on the rhythmic delivery of the choral text. The setting of Sarah Teasdale's Those who love the best is beautifully restrained in the opening verse and builds to a thrilling climax in the second, a piece that deserves to be taken up by female choirs around the world.

On the other hand, Getty's setting of his own poem Beauty come dancing seems curiously bitty, an odd choice to headline the title of the disc. The orchestral accompaniment has a nicely sly sense of rhythm, like Prokofiev at his most cheeky, but we need a greater sense of connection between the verses. What is missing is immediately clear in the setting of Edwin Arlington Robinson's For a dead lady which begins with an attractive oboe melody over harp accompaniment; even the pseudo-Janáçek violin ostinati blend unobtrusively into the setting, despite once again the over-amplified tuned percussion (here an unbelievably loud celesta). The return of the oboe melody at the final words is effective, but one might have welcomed a more conclusive ending.



The final three items in this collection consist of the settings of Byron, Dowson, and Keats to which I referred earlier. The Assyrian comes down like the wolf on the fold with all the expected violence that one might anticipate (it follows with rude directness on the quiet ‘fade' of For a dead lady) and once again the Janáçek-like ostinato figure is prominently on display. Not altogether surprisingly the best passages in the choral setting of Cynara are those which echo Delius's unforgettable treatment of phrases such as “There fell thy shadow, Cynara!” but then yet again we hear the same “Janáçek” repeated motif in the violins. The wind chords at the words “I have been faithful to thee, Cynara, in my fashion” sound expectedly churchy in this context before the insistent ostinato returns yet again. The ending of the poem, with the woodwind chords, is very sudden; no sense here of the Delian dying fall.

The Keats setting is more adventurous, as well as being the second-longest piece in the collection. Sometimes the treatment of the words is undesirably brisk, but then we encounter a particularly memorable phrase – as in the first verse at “And no birds sing” which echoes a passage from Holst's similarly Keats-based Choral Symphony. The woodwind squawks as the fairy maiden appears are also effective, but then we suddenly find ourselves back in the field of the “Janáçek” violin ostinato which builds to a furious climax at the appearance of the “pale warriors”. The persistent appearance of this ‘motto theme' is clearly intentional, but its significance eludes me; it serves to bind the three final settings together, but its sheer ubiquity is obtrusive when they are heard in immediate succession as here. The final bars, with the return of the ‘fairy maiden' woodwind, are however very effective.

The recording is generally well balanced even if the chorus is somewhat backwardly positioned in the modern manner; although their diction is clear, we do need the provided texts to keep abreast of what is going on especially in the more heavily-scored passages of The old man in the night and elsewhere. There are some peculiar pronunciations, such as “granary” in the final Keats setting delivered as “grainery”, but nothing to perturb the listener more than briefly.

The presentation of this disc, as is usual with Pentatone's releases of Getty, is impressively lavish: a forty-page illustrated booklet includes the full texts as well as information on the music, albeit in English only. Those who have enjoyed Getty's earlier discs of choral music will find these settings irresistible. But there are only three items here – the quirky setting of Shenandoah, the lyrical For a dead lady, and the superlative Those who love the best – which rival the earlier Pentatone recording containing Getty's Young America and Victorian Scenes, which really are something rather special.

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Beauty Come Dancing, San Francisco Classical Voice

Jeff Kaliss, Beauty Come Dancing
San Francisco Classical Voice

Gordon Getty Aims for Tunes Chopin Might Have Written

Beauty Come Dancing, on the Pentatone label, is an attractive collection that confirms Gordon Getty's twin loves of composing for voice and making poetry into music. Even those familiar with Getty's operatic settings of Shakespeare (Plump Jack) and Poe (Usher House) may be unaware that the composer studied English at the University of San Francisco before earning a bachelor's degree and setting the verses of Alfred Lord Tennyson and Emily Dickinson in song. The poets assembled here range historically from Lord Byron to John Masefield to Getty himself, and the music in many aspects is as varied as the verse, unified by the composer's self-declared affinity for 19th-century tropes of elegance and romance, and his flair for the dramatic.

 

These qualities are airily and engagingly conveyed by the Netherlands Radio Choir and the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by James Gaffigan, and are evident in Getty's own poetry, the source for the album's first two offerings. “The Old Man in the Night” showcases the full instrumental and vocal ensembles in a gentle and reflective account of an interchange between two characters at opposite ends of their lives. “The Old Man in the Morning,” written more recently, elicits plaintive accompaniment on English horn, harp, and strings. Love is an abiding theme here for both poets and composer, as is dance, first manifest in Getty's take on John Masefield's “Ballet Russe.” The poem references Chopin, and Getty, in the liner notes, has stated his “aim for tunes Chopin might have written, but didn't.”

Like his Polish pianist-composer predecessor, Getty's pacing and coloration sound choreographed, the arpeggiated piano sparkling at the center of the choral display, partnered by harp and strings. “Shenandoah,” though its lyric lies in folklore, may be one of Getty's most affecting single pieces to date. The refrain's “rolling river” is audible in the swells and runs, the harmonic arrangement alluring and rustically fresh and unaffected.

The affect for John Keats's “There Was a Naughty Boy” is appropriately jumpy and playful, in short lines like a child's story song. The only setting for women's chorus is matched to “Those Who Love the Most,” the only poem by a woman. The music invokes the magic in the poet's mythic name-checks and palpably positions love as triumphant. For the album's titular “Beauty Come Dancing,” from a poem by the composer, Getty trickily pairs iambic pentameter with waltz time, with giddy accompaniment by flutes, clarinets, celesta, and strings. The waltz sobers up for Edwin Arlington Robinson's “For a Dead Lady,” in an alluring setting for chamber orchestra that ends artfully unresolved.

Another compelling change of scene on Lord Byron's epic of “The Destruction of Sennacherib,” perhaps the most evocative of the masterful mustering of the individual sections and instruments of the orchestra apparent in some of Getty's operatic writing. It's arguably also the composer's closest approach to advanced 20th-century chromatic modulations and anguished voicings. The tale of “Cynara” is the work of “Decadent” poet and novelist Ernest Christopher Dawson, but Getty's deployment of men's chorus and chamber orchestra, effectively dramatic, honor's the poet's febrile longing but avoids the garish. Keats returns for the closer, “La belle dame sans merci,” with which Getty takes on another of his favorite roles, unabashedly sustaining single notes or chords when they serve his role as a storyteller. In an ironic twist on Keats's “wither'd sedge” where “no birds sing,” Getty commands a clarinet to sing anyway. All the poetry appears in the album's booklet, making for a quite satisfying celebration of two forms of creative expression.

 

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Beauty Come Dancing, Epoch Times

Barry Bassis, Beauty Comes Dancing
The Epoch Times

Gordon Getty's Ode to Love and Dance
Gordon Getty (b. 1933) is a distinguished composer of songs and operas inspired by poetry. “Beauty Comes Dancing” is a new release on the Pentatone label of Getty's choral works performed by The Netherlands Radio Choir led by chorus master Klaas Stok, and The Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by James Gaffigan. This is the third album of his choral works.

Getty is a self-described conservative, both in the poetry that inspires him and the music he writes. The only living poet in the collection and the one who wrote the title piece and two other songs on the CD is himself. This is not the first time he has set his own words to music. Like Wagner, whom Getty admires, he supplies his own librettos for his operas: “Plump Jack” (based on Shakespeare's Falstaff), “Usher House” (based on Edgar Allan Poe's short story “The Fall of the House of Usher”), and “The Canterville Ghost” (based on Oscar Wilde's novella).

The opening piece, and the longest and most complex work in the collection, is “The Old Man in the Night.” The lyrics deal with two men, one young and other elderly, both supposedly representing the author at different times in his life. Much of the poem is an evocation of beauty, ending with: “Beauty beyond all keeping, worth all cost/O beautiful and merciless my love.”

“The Old Man in the Morning” shows a more hopeful new day, where it is “all spring, all morning, just as then.”

John Keats (1795–1821) is Getty's favorite poet, and John Masefield (1878–1967) his second favorite. Both are represented in his collection.

Masefield, like Getty, was a ballet aficionado and, in “Ballet Russe,” Beauty returns in the form of a ballerina, “all that a boyhood loves and manhood needs.” The first line of the poem mentions Chopin, and the music suggests the style of the earlier composer.The title piece on the CD, with words by Getty, has all nature dancing, “when the world is young” and “loud with music [and] mirth.”

“Shenandoah” is Getty's choral arrangement of the American folk song. He had written an earlier arrangement for soprano Lisa Delan, who has been a frequent interpreter of his music.“There Was a Naughty Boy” is a lighthearted poem by Keats, and Getty's setting is equally playful.

Sara Teasdale's (1884–1933) “Those Who Love the Most” (the only poem on the album by a female writer) is a look backward to the era of courtly love, with references to Guinevere, Deirdre, Iseult, and Heloise.Edward Arlington Robinson's “For a Dead Lady” is a melancholy waltz, wondering at the end, “Of what inexorable cause/Makes Time so vicious in his reaping.”

“The Destruction of Sennacherib” by Lord Byron (1788–1824) is a dramatic piece, beginning with an attack by the Assyrian army and concluding with the grieving widows of Ashur.Ernest Christopher Dowson's (1867–1900) “Cynara” is performed by a male chorus and orchestra. At one point the poet exclaims, “I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! In my fashion.”  This poem was supposedly the inspiration for Cole Porter's song “Always True to You in My Fashion” from the musical “Kiss Me, Kate.” Getty's musical setting is far more serious in tone than the Broadway composer's.Keats's “La Belle Dame sans Merci” again recalls knightly love and ends with the poet alone “where no birds sing.”

The Netherlands Radio Choir under Chorus Master Klaas Stok clearly articulates the text, although where the orchestra reaches an occasional crescendo, the words are sometimes obscured. Pentatone helpfully supplies the poems along with an essay by Jeff Kaliss, a statement from the composer, and information about the choir, the superb Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra, as well as its conductor James Gaffigan.“Beauty Comes Dancing” attests to Getty's facility for setting poetry to music.

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Four Dickinson Songs, A Certain Slant of Light, Opera News

Joshua Rosenblum, A Certain Slant of Light, Opera News
Opera News

"Delan previously recorded Getty's cycle The White Election, which consists of thirty-one Dickinson settings. The set featured here, Four Dickinson Songs, consists of songs that were not included in The White Election but are among his best. 

“Safe in Their Alabaster Chambers” has reverent, cinematic grandeur and superb coloristic contrast. “A Bird Came Down the Walk” makes inventive use of fragmented solo harpsichord in its first two stanzas and a romantically soaring vocal line for the rest. “There's a certain Slant of Light,” the album's title track, features clangorous, dissonant chimes representing the “oppress[ive] heft of cathedral tunes.” The famous “Because I could not stop for Death,” which opens with a driving duplet figure on the xylophone, is swirling and ghoulish, with a touch of macabre humor. (There's another setting of the same poem in the Copland set, but Getty's is better.)"

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Beauty Come Dancing, Art Music Lounge

Lynn René Bayley, Beauty Come Dancing
The Art Music Lounge

Gordon Getty has long been one of my favorite contemporary composers, which many of my readers—knowing my proclivity for modern music that is harmonically spiky, bitonal or atonal—may find surprising. But as I've said many times before, my criteria for judging new music is not how spiky the harmonies are but whether or not the music is well-constructed and says something, regardless of the tonal base, and too many modern composers just write “sensational” music that really doesn't develop or say anything.

Fortunately, Getty was musically trained the old-fashioned way, not meaning simply that he writes tonally but meaning that he learned how to create themes and develop them logically, and this is what one hears in this excellent new collection. As in the case of his solo vocal music, Getty is particularly adept at writing for voices, even in choral settings. Unlike his song cycle of Emily Dickinson songs, The White Election, which was purposely written in a simple strophic manner to simulate Dickinson singing and playing the piano herself, the harmonic language of these works is more sophisticated, like that of his excellent opera Usher House.

Interestingly, some of these pieces are set to poems by Getty himself such as the first, The Old Man in the Night, the longest and most complex piece on this album. The text concerns two men at opposite ends of their lives, which Getty claims are his own young and old selves (he is now 80…hard to believe, considering the youthful enthusiasm of his composition style). The Netherlands Radio Choir is a fine group of singers but not very clear in their diction; without the lyrics printed in the booklet, I wouldn't have a clue what they were singing. Only a few consonants are clearly articulated (mostly from the women, not the men), which leads to a confused muddle of sound rather than a succession of words. On the other hand, James Gaffigan is an excellent conductor, bringing out the power and sweep of Getty's music superbly, and the orchestra plays with commitment and drive behind him.

Although a separate piece with a different text, The Old Man in the Morning almost sounds like a second movement to the first piece. No, the music is not exactly the same, but the mood, the rhythm and the feel of the music make it sound like, perhaps, an early draft of the first piece, at least musically speaking. By contrast, Ballet Russe, set to a text by John Masefield that begins, “The gnome from the moonland plays the Chopin air, the ballerina glides out of the wings, like all the Aprils of forgotten Springs.” Perhaps a bit more variety in dynamics contrasts could have been put into the music, but again, it is very effective in its own way.

The fourth piece is Getty's arrangement of the famous tune Shenandoah, and it is one of the finest I've heard of that over-performed tune. Here, too, Getty's orchestration is particularly varied, using light textures and a transparent sound palette. John Keats' There Was a Naughty Boy is set to rapid strophes, highly rhythmic with irregular beats and accents. The orchestration in this one is also quite original. Those Who Love the Most, based on Sara Teasdale's poem, is a broad adagio with soft horn and trombone textures sprinkled with glockenspiel and piano.

Beauty Comes Dancing, based on another original poem, is a lilting waltz featuring a solo violin (possibly played by concertmaster Joris van Rijn) and, later solo clarinet, again with irregular metric divisions of the beats and harmonic shifts that add interest. For a Dead Lady begins as a waltz, not quite as elegiac in mood as you'd expect, which morphs into 4 with continually changing accents, often pitting two different meters (chorus and orchestra) against each other.

I was particularly impressed by Getty's very dramatic setting of Lord Byron's The Destruction of Sennacherib with its powerful rhythms and aggressive brass chords—quite different from everything else that had preceded it. Musically and dramatically, this is clearly a masterpiece, and should be performed regularly by American choruses. Without going into too much detail, the music is built around similar lines as the preceding pieces but geared towards a more dynamic aesthetic. I was blown away by it!Getty's setting of Ernest Dawson's Cynara also uses a dark-sounding orchestral palette, and has an undercurrent of menace about it (mostly achieved via downward minor-key passages played by both the cellos and violins), but at a slower tempo and quieter volume. He is such a diverse composer that he knows, at this stage of his career, exactly how to gauge effects without making them sound contrived. I recommend this piece, and the preceding, to young contemporary composers as an example of how to be creative without being formulaic. This piece also includes a contrasting central section that is quieter, reflecting the words at that point, before becoming more aggressive and powerful.

The album concludes with Getty's setting of Keats' La Belle Dame sans Merci and here we encounter another, entirely different sort of setting, dramatic and strophic, with pregnant pauses in the music for emphasis. The diminuendo effect at the two-minute mark is an interesting touch, although the chorus doesn't quite bring it off as effectively as they could have. The sort of downward, minor-key passages one heard in the previous work are here assigned to the harp as well as the violas and violins, and used much more judiciously. The bitonal chord assigned to the chorus just around the six-minute mark also adds interest and makes the music highly effective.

This is clearly one of the finest collections of Getty's music extant, and I'm deeply grateful to Pentatone Classics for recording and issuing it. Even with my few caveats regarding the performance, it is a fine achievement all round.

 

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Richard S. Ginell, Scare Pair

Gordon Getty might be the wealthiest classical composer in history this side of Felix Mendelssohn or Frederick the Great. The resulting celebrity guarantees him an audience, but respect has been harder to come by.

Nevertheless, Getty has persevered in his late-blooming career as a composer, writing three relatively short operas, several choral works and song cycles, and some orchestral, piano, and chamber pieces, many of which can be heard in SACD splendor on PentaTone label. The recordings reveal a capable composer and a fairly reticent one – no grandiose shouting at the balcony for its own sake. Heir to an oil fortune, Getty has said that he is “two-thirds a 19th-century composer,” but what I hear is an unmistakable 20th-century man who has sidestepped the main trends of the era and prefers to write in a self-effacing, tonal, non-ear-threatening style. His closest musical soulmate, intended or not, is probably Benjamin Britten.

Getty's most recent one-act operas, Usher House and The Canterville Ghost, were meant to be paired together – and indeed they do offset each other well, with Usher being immersed in the murky morbid world of Edgar Allan Poe and Canterville a setting of a rollicking ghost story by Oscare Wilde. So on June 22, LA Opera Off Grand, the company's ever-adventurous offsite offshoot, put both of them on the Broad Stage under the label "Scare Pair"...

Liberally based upon Poe's enigmatic Gothic short story "The Fall of the House of Usher", Usher House is a followup piece to Getty's ballet Ancestor Suite, which was also inspired by the same Poe story. With the exception of the central ballet sequence, the opera's musical language is very different from that of the suite; the opera is spare-textured, inward-looking, and almost all recitative, with plenty of room for the voices to be heard. Getty injects Poe in the flesh into the opera as the narrator and longtime friend of Roderick Usher...

Yet nothing in Usher's score is terribly inspired, and there is little dramatic tension in the buildup to the conclusion....

In The Canterville Ghost, a wealthy American family circa 1890 buys an English manor whose resident ghost, Sir Simon de Canterville, tries and fails to put the willies in them. The work was unexpectedly delightful; Opera Leipzig's recording doesn't convey as much fun as this production did. Here, too, Getty put in something of his own: an opening scene set in 1960 in which the eighty-something couple Cecil Cheshire...and Virginia Otis...tell the great-grandchildren about what happened 70 years before, making the rest of the opera a flashback. The scoring is lighter in mood and thoroughly tonal, but not in a white-bread way, with flashes of humor that got the audience chuckling....

Bursts of amplified sound effects helped to relieve any tedium during the frequent breaks between Canterville's 20 mostly short scenes. Canterville's final scene, with the lovers Cecil and Virginia singing and the celesta playing the only memorable Getty tunes to be heard all night, was saved from sentimentality by Virginia's refusal to admit that she had helped the ghost achieve his long-sought eternal rest.

The composer, now 84, was on hand to take a bow with the rest of the cast, playfully acting like one of his ghosts. Of course, neither he nor his two operas scared anyone.

 

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The Canterville Ghost, Scare Pair, Usher House, Bachtrack

Laurence Vittes, Scare Pair
Bachtrack

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.

The better of the two operas was the Usher House, which had its world premiere 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....

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....

 

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The Canterville Ghost, Scare Pair, Usher House, Los Angeles Times

Richard S. Ginell, Scare Pair
Los Angeles Times

Having reached the ripe age of 84, composer-philanthropist Gordon Getty can look back upon a fairly sizable body of work, mostly for the voice, that he has written over the last three decades.

His music gets a mixed bag of reviews which — good, bad and indifferent — are unflinchingly documented on his website. Yet the PentaTone label diligently records much of his output, and his music does get live performances — if more in his home base, the Bay Area, than in Southern California. To round out its 2017-18 season, Los Angeles Opera Off-Grand took a chance on two recent Getty works, a pair of hourlong one-act operas.

Composed of “Usher House” and “The Canterville Ghost” — which are based upon tales by Edgar Allan Poe and Oscar Wilde, respectively — the double-header was marketed as the “Scare Pair,” though neither piece would scare a fly... The two operas do make a logical twin-bill — the spooky, enigmatic “Usher” followed by the comic relief of “Canterville” — much like LA Opera's pairing of Bartók's “Bluebeard's Castle” and Puccini's “Gianni Schicchi” back in the Kent Nagano era (2002). Of the two, though, only “Canterville” strikes me as something that might catch on, and the lively cast and staging had a lot to do with that.

In “Usher House,” Getty inserted Poe himself into the opera as the narrator who visits his old “friend” Roderick Usher, the inhabitant of the doomed house. Much of the opera is an overly talky back-and-forth between Poe and Roderick, with a gracefully written instrumental ballet sequence in its center featuring Roderick's writhing, contorting, terminally ill twin sister Madeline and some onscreen ghostly ancestors.

Getty's score is spare, inward-looking, unapologetically tonal, channeling Benjamin Britten in mood and texture if not actual style, and consisting of mostly unmemorable recitative with little connection between the orchestra and the singing line. Poe's murky tale doesn't seem to inspire the best in composers — Debussy couldn't finish his own version and Philip Glass' take on “Usher” consists of mainly routine minor-key underscoring — so Getty is not alone in being unable to come up with a compelling piece of music theater.

Ultimately, Dave Dunning's scenery designs and David Murakami's elaborate projections scored the main points in “Usher's” favor. Through direct projections on Gothic-shaped (of course) arches onstage and others from a giant 20 foot-by-24-foot video monitor in the back of the stage, they provided stunning simulations of the dark, gloomy Usher library and observatory, as well as a ballroom in which hologram-like images of ghosts danced.

“The Canterville Ghost” came off as the more engaging piece, with 20 mostly brief scenes tracing Wilde's storyline about a rich American family circa 1890 that buys an English mansion with its own resident ghost. There is satire about how Americans rely upon consumer products and litigation to solve their problems, and the ghost (Sir Simon de Canterville) can't scare the bejeebers out of any of these Yankees, least of all a pair of twin boys who torment the poor fella.

The scoring is lighter in weight than in “Usher,” still mostly recitative, but now with flashes of humor like the interpolations of “Yankee Doodle” and “Rule Britannia.” And in the final scene, for the first time all night, Getty hits upon a couple of attractive melodic ideas for the audience to take home from the theater. The video screen displayed a riot of bright, vibrant color in the cemetery, as well as in the scenes of croquet in the park — and a library of amplified sound effects during scene changes mostly added to the hilarity....

Altogether, LA Opera Off-Grand's cast made a much better case for Getty's ghost comedy than the PentaTone recording.

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