In the days when I would have still contemplated composing an opera, my preferred source was Edgar Allan Poe's "Masque of the Red Death." A marvelous story full of both symbolism and terror, it is only five pages long and would thus require "padding" instead of the usual brutal cutting of the story. I had contemplated some sort of melding of the Poe story with Leonid Andreyev's symbolist play "The Black Maskers." However, I shall not be composing an opera, and so I decided to redirect my ideas into what might be considered an overture to an unwritten opera.
The story concerns a vain Prince, Prospero, who summons his friends to his palace and locks them in so that they will remain safe from the Red Death, a plague that is ravaging the countryside. He commands that there be a ball the "masque" but that no one is to wear red. But of course a figure clad all in red does appear; it is the red death, and it claims the lives of all in the castle.
© 2011 by Christopher Rouse
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Reprinted by kind permission of Christopher Rouse
"In this recording, Gilbert and the orchestra seem almost purpose-built for Rouse's muscular, evocative music."
"Among the works Rouse created for the ensemble is Prospero's Rooms, an imaginative musical fantasy on Edgar Allen Poe's Masque of the Red Death. Working his way through the variously colored rooms of Poe's tale, Rouse captures the author's eerie strangeness with powerful poetry of his own in a spooky thrill ride."
"I was totally gripped, and entertained, by the UK premiere of Christopher Rouse's Prospero's Rooms, a stunning, eight-minute orchestral riff on Edgar Allan Poe's The Masque of the Red Death. Dripping with Hammer House of Horror effects, especially in its lugubrious opening bars and screeching ending, it was also mischievous and even perky in places — a dance of death, done with sardonic glee. Poe would have loved it."
"...the moody, insinuating “Odna Zhizn” and the wonderfully stagy “Prospero's Rooms” — give even more evidence of Rouse's communicative gift."
"fearsome and taut"
"In Mr. Rouse's atmospheric work, the story is told with dreamlike speed—10 minutes from the cadaverous contrabassoon line that opens over quiet string rumblings to the final terrifying crash. Poe's ball takes place in a sequence of monochrome rooms and the music had a strong sense of motion and spaces being entered and left behind, as well as colors that sometimes seemed eerily disembodied from the instruments that produced them."
"Christopher Rouse, the Phil's composer-in-residence, showed his absolute mastery of the orchestra in a ten-minute work (New York Philharmonic Commission) that was like a dazzling mini-concerto for orchestra. Yes, Mr. Rouse was inspired by Masque of the Red Death, a story from which Debussy also tried an opera. But the divisions of the different-color rooms were seamless, somewhat horrifying, an orchestral tour de force."