A One-Act Music Drama for Male Voices
and Chamber Instrumental Ensemble
Music and Libretto by Amir Zaheri
Based on the Play by Jeffery Scott Elwell
The Raven’s Revenge, a 45-minute one-act music drama, is based on the play of the same name, by Jeffery Scott Elwell. It is scored for two lead male voices (one tenor, one baritone) and four supporting male voices (two baritones, two bass-baritones). The voices are accompanied by a chamber instrumental ensemble, which includes flute, oboe, viola, violoncello, percussion (non-pitched, two players), and piano.
Divided into eleven movements/sections, the work includes five movements for full company, one major aria for each lead voice, and three movements (transitions) for instrumental duets alone. The arias are accompanied only by piano. This decision was made not only to provide a shift in aural texture and timbre, but also in an effort to help make performance of the arias (outside of the full performance of the work), a more accessible possibility. A conductor is required for the five movements involving the full company; however, neither the arias, nor the transitions, should be conducted.
Although a sizable amount of Elwell’s play was reduced from the final product of the music drama, every effort was made, throughout the process of creating the libretto, to ensure that the compositional integrity of the story remained intact. What remains is a collection of great emotional variety, the firm core of the dramatic situation, and a more concise and directed view into the principal relationship: the relationship between Edgar Allan Poe and The Reverend Rufus Wilmot Griswold.
On a lonely seaport in Baltimore, we hear the original (perhaps unfortunate and unkind) obituary of Edgar Allan Poe (appearing in the New York Tribune – October 9, 1849), as penned by colleague and literary executor, The Reverend Rufus Wilmot Griswold. It is on this seaport where we first encounter Poe, clearly intoxicated and perhaps uncertain as to his own whereabouts. Immediately aware that two thugs are following him, Poe offers warnings of strength, only to be beaten, robbed and left for death.
Advancing eight years to around the time of the death of Rufus Wilmot Griswold, the action is now centered in a courtroom in purgatory. Griswold has been summonsed to appear and defend himself against the claim launched by Edgar Allan Poe: that Griswold is responsible for Poe’s murder.
Following three courtroom scenes filled with accusation, defense, and intimate recollections, as well as two arias, which provide a very careful and introspective understanding of both Poe and Griswold, the final courtroom scene arrives with fury. The scene explodes with not only a final verdict, but also with a more keen understanding of Griswold’s insecurity and weakness, as well as a truer sense of Poe’s ability to create, to surprise, and to inflict searing fear.
Returning to the same lonely seaport, we now find Griswold, after having been sentenced for all of eternity to repeat in the same fate of Poe: “to be beaten and left for dead on the dock of that city.” Griswold’s words, as heard in Poe’s original obituary, are turned against him almost verbatim; in an effort to perhaps provide special insult, one word has been omitted from the original document by Elwell: “brilliant.”