The chamber-music collective CUBE has always had a sense of mission: it focuses on neglected contemporary classics and new pieces commissioned both from its local colleagues (Gustavo Leone, Ilya Levinson) and from its own members (Patricia Morehead, Janice Misurell-Mitchell). But Levinson's adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart," which CUBE debuts tonight, is the group's most ambitious production yet: a 40-minute single-character "opera" for baritone and chamber ensemble, it's longer than any work CUBE has yet premiered and the first to be staged with costumes and a set. Levinson, a former student of Ralph Shapey's, has scored for films, which helped teach him to evoke events not explicitly dramatized: though the music parallels the narrator's obsessive state of mind, imitating the snoring of the old boarder he murders and then the imaginary beating of the corpse's heart, the libretto doesn't recount the crime itself. The madman traverses wildly disparate emotional states--hatred, triumph, confidence, desperation, panic--as he sings his tale, rather like the unhinged woman in Schoenberg's Erwartung. Librettist Jon Steinhagen, a music-theater veteran Levinson met through the New Tuners, has fleshed out Poe's story a bit, working in some new information about the victim's past and making the narrator somewhat more sympathetic and human than in the original; the role has been tailored to baritone David Holloway, who recently played an eloquent and devious Don Alfonso in Chicago Opera Theater's Cosi fan tutte. The instrumental accompaniment has likewise been written especially for CUBE, and underscores some of the ensemble's greatest strengths: the fluency and drama of the winds (oboist Morehead, flutist Misurell-Mitchell, and clarinetist Christie Vohs) and the splendid range of textures and timbres commanded by percussionist Doug Brush. Philip Morehead conducts; Amy Ressler is the stage director. Each of these performances of the opera shares the bill with a different selection of shorter works, including pieces by Patricia Morehead, Misurell-Mitchell, Levinson, and Leone. Friday, March 8, 7:30 PM, Concert Hall, Columbia College, 1014 S. Michigan; Sunday, March 17, 7:30 PM, Theatre Building, 1225 W. Belmont; and Wednesday, March 20, 7:30 PM, Anderson Chapel, North Park University, 3225 W. Foster. 312-554-1133.

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