Opera Review: The Tell-Tale Heart

Sublimely terrifying!


Presented by State Opera South Australia

Reviewed: 1 July 2021

“I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell. How, then, am I mad?” Edgar Allan Poe, The Tell-Tale Heart

Seventeen years ago director Hugh Halliday came up with the concept of setting Edgar Allen Poe’s short story The Tell-Tale Heart to music. Dennis Vaughan brought the musical vision to life, composing an exciting, and evocative, score to the full text of Poe’s short story and the production first saw the light of day at the 2005 Castlemaine Festival and then disappeared into obscurity.

Tonight, under the skilful direction of Hugh Halliday the opera, born of this concept, saw the light of day again as part of Stuart Maunder’s Lost Operas of Oz series being staged by State Opera South Australia. The setting for the opera was Z Ward, part of the disused mental institute at Glenside. The stark brick building was constructed in 1885 according to the decaying plaque on the wall outside and the grim, but acoustically generous, setting of a ward in an asylum brought an energy to the performance that added great mood to this intelligent and at times terrifying retelling of Poe’s story.

The cream paint is peeling off the corrugated iron ceiling, there are ancient flagstones on the floor and rows of cells line the dirty cream painted walls. Z Ward is the perfect setting for this gothic horror story for tenor and orchestra.

From the moment James Eggleston enters the cell that dominates the performance space and the lighting effect bursts into life, coupled with the disturbing and electrifying music, you know you’re in for a roller coaster of a ride through a man’s descent into madness.

Eggleston’s voice brings the story to life as it soars, cuts, excoriates and pulses through the air that he thickens with a myriad of emotions from fear to joy, to sexual excitement to base animal rawness that sees Eggleston at one stage release a primal noise that is terrifying! . It marries with and increases the effects of the music so magically executed by the ensemble of 13 talented musicians led by Dennis Vaughan, themselves imprisoned in the alcove behind the onstage cell. They underpin and expand every nuance that Eggleston brings to life in the telling of Poe’s famous piece of work. Dennis Vaughan extracts exciting, and often unexpected, music from his gifted ensemble of players as they work with, and through, the story, underpinning every nuance demanded by the emotional journey of the work.

It is a rare and humbling experience to see a story told with such conviction reinforced by musical genius and skillful direction that lets the story give the actor (and can this singer act) the scope to use every bit of the range of his vast vocal, emotional and intellectual talent. A solo hour on stage is a marathon for a singer; it demands focus, stamina and huge physical output. Not once did Eggleston let us see the extent of the work he was so involved and immersed in to tell his story.

Ben Flett’s lighting is inventive, clever and adds texture and mood to the piece and the space. It expands the performance space and gives Eggleston room to expand and demand focus from all angles.

Yep, I’m raving. Good work demands high praise. Eggleston is brilliant in this role. Vaughan’s music is a demonstration of the world class composers we have in Australia, and Halliday’s direction is subtle and smart, allowing Eggleston to make extraordinary and absorbing theatre with this music and this story.

Finally, bold choices demand recognition. Stuart Maunder and his team have brought new life and energy to State Opera South Australia and the Lost Operas of Oz is another really great idea that sees new life breathed into some very interesting works that we don’t get to see very often. Bravo!

Reviewed by Adrian Barnes

Star rating out of 5: 5

Venue:  Z Ward, Glenside                

Season: 1-4 July

Duration:  55 minutes (no interval)

Suitability: PG

Tickets: A Reserve$75.00 B Reserve $50.00 C Reserve $35.00

A one-off service + handling fee of $8.95 applies per transaction
regardless of the number or value of items purchased.


All scheduled performances of The Tell-Tale Heart will go ahead at Z Ward Glenside this week, in line with current guidelines.
The wearing of masks for all audience members will now be required. Any changes to restrictions in South Australia may affect this theatrical season.
Ticket holders will be notified immediately in the case that shows cannot go ahead.

Photo Credit: Soda Street Productions

More News

To Top