Once upon a midnight dreary, Broadway star Zachary James teamed up with acclaimed composer Kristin Hevner to release an original rendition of Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven.”
There’s good reason for Philadelphians to check out this version specifically—the classic poem from the famed poet has a significant pull in the City of Brotherly Love.
Although Poe is mostly known from other cities with landmarks such as his former home in Baltimore from the 1830s and his presence in Charleston back when he was a soldier (also where one of his most tragic works, “Annabel Lee,” was inspired) Poe also has set some of his influence in Philly. In the Spring Garden neighborhood lies The Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site, a preserved home once rented by the American author. Poe did live in many houses throughout the city, but this one is the only standing remnant of that time in Philadelphia. So, with that imprint on the city, it makes sense for two local Philadelphians to put their own spin on the popular dark work of art.
James has shown off his creative chops in multiple stages across the globe (on stages ranging from The Metropolitan Opera, Minnesota Opera, English National Opera and more), on television and even in the world’s ever first Zoom opera that was held earlier this year amidst the pandemic. Along with many other accolades, James has been known for thinking outside of the box including creating the role of Lurch in the Original Broadway Cast of “The Addams Family,” so this new rendition exemplifies just that.
According to a release, “The Raven” performed by James, is a full interpretation of Poe’s work, a multi-dimensional experience that doesn’t fit neatly in one genre. Hevner’s score could easily be at home on an opera stage as well, or equally suitable for the theater or cinema. Created and filmed in quarantine during the COVID-19 pandemic, James and Hevner hope that the show pushes boundaries and shows the possibilities of creating art during the current global health crisis—something that many artists have explored in their own ways throughout this time.
This particular segment taking a spin on Poe’s work is part of James’ upcoming album “Call Out,” which will be released this month. Originally, James was supposed to perform a live solo recital for Carnegie Hall last month, but for obvious reasons the music was re-imagined. The album follows suit of “The Raven” by exploring a series of simultaneous visual and audio albums of works composed by women. James also recruited pianist Charity Wicks, cellist Jeffrey Zeigler, theorboist Brandon Acker, steel guitarist Kevin Skrla, guitarist Frederick Poholek, and vocalist Megan Nielson for music on the album.
Music fans might recognize similar concepts with previous albums by The Beatles and Daft Punk, among many other past and contemporary artists. The albums all incorporate music videos conceived by the artists as visual vehicles for the tracks.
Hevner who helped James create “The Raven” while in quarantine is also a native to the City of Brotherly Love and also has had her compositions performed internationally and throughout the United States at venues from Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, Crash Mansion, Birdland and more. According to the release, the Temple Graduate’s music spans the musical genres of classical and contemporary opera, symphonic music, electronic dance music, hip-hop, rap and atonal rock. One specific accolade, Hevner’s opera, “Il Sogno” has launched her in more than one place. The contemporary Italian-language opera based on Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” had its Italian premiere at the Teatro Communale Citta della Pieve in Umbria, Italy in 2004. “Il Sogno” then had its NYC premiere in 2009 with Metropolis Opera Project and its regional professional company premiere with Opera Ithaca in 2015. The Metropolis Opera Project cast recording of “Il Sogno” was produced at NYC’s Clinton Recording Studio and the Opera Ithaca production was filmed for worldwide online release.
The visual experience, which “fuses song, film, and theatrics,” is available online now, and “The Raven” can also be downloaded and streamed on Apple Music, Spotify, and other music services.