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Take a deep dive into all things Poe
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Photo contributed “Annabel” is part of the double-billing and features Jason Detwiler as the Kinsman and Pitman High graduate Allison Harris.

Fans of opera and fans of the macabre — two groups you don’t normally think of as having much in common — will come together next weekend for Opera Modesto’s fourth annual Story Into Song Literacy Initiative, highlighted by two one-act operas based on the works of Edgar Allan Poe.

This year’s celebration gets under way on Friday the 13th at 5:30 p.m. with Poe’s Pub — a Poe-themed appetizer and dessert buffet — at Modesto’s State Theatre, 1307 J St. Guests are invited to dress in Poe-themed costumes, and can enjoy Poe-themed food and drinks, Poe trivia games and Poe-themed songs by the Modesto Junior College Concert Choir (directed by Tiffany Baxter), and a souvenir photo with Poe’s tombstone … if you’re brave enough.

“There’s going to be weird drinks and food and all kinds of Poe stuff,” said Roy Stevens, general director of Opera Modesto. “This will be a special night for the horror fanatic.”

The evening will conclude with a screening of “The Raven,” Roger Corman’s 1963 cult classic based on a Poe poem, starring screen legends Boris Karloff, Vincent Price, Peter Lorre … and a young Jack Nicholson.

“This is a great event for lovers of classic horror films,” added Stevens. “Not only will you get to see a rare classic horror movie, but you’ll get to see it on the big screen.”

On Saturday and Sunday, a double feature of one-act operas will highlight the “PoeCon” festivities. “Tell Tale Heart,” inspired by the author’s 1843 short story, was composed by Stewart Copeland, former drummer for The Police. It stars Jason Detwiler as the murderer, Chad Somers as the victim, and is directed by I-Chen Wang.

The second opera — “Annabel,” about a love so strong it lasts beyond the grave — was commissioned from composer Deborah Kavasch and librettist Linda Bunney-Sarhad, both of Turlock. Based upon Poe’s 1849 poem “Annabel Lee,” the opera stars Oakdale native Darby Schmidt in the titular role, with Somers as the lover and Detwiler as the kinsman. It is directed by Annalisa Winberg.

Both operas will be conducted by Liisa Davila, with scenic design by Yi-Hsuan Ma and projections by Wang.

Stanislaus State graduate Rosa Moreno-Aranda (mezzo-soprano), CSUS seniors Luca Mitchell (tenor) and Stephanie Ortiz (soprano), and Pitman High graduate Allison Harris (mezzo-soprano), who now attends Brigham Young University, are members of the solo ensemble. 

PoeCon on Saturday and Sunday will feature six different 45-minute sessions (three on Saturday, three on Sunday): “Murder, Mayhem or Mishap: Can You Crack the Mystery of Poe’s Death?”; “POEtry: Poe’s Dark Romantic Heart”; “The Resurrectionists: Bringing Poe to Life on Stage”; “Quote the Audience Evermore: Poe in Pop Culture”; “Crime, Punishment and Poe: The Literary Godfather of Crime”; and “Beastly Poe: Ravens and Orangutans and Cats, Oh My!”

Tickets for Poe’s Pub are $50 in advance and $60 at the door. Admission for the two one-act operas, which begin at 2 p.m. each day, range from $25 to $40, depending on the seat, and $20 for students of any age. 

Tickets for PoeCon are $30 ($20 for students), and one ticket will get you into both Saturday’s and Sunday’s sessions, which are conducted by authors, educators and Poe enthusiasts. The State will open its doors for PoeCon at 8:30 a.m. and sessions begin 30 minutes later.

Purchase tickets by visiting