The Letter (opera)

The Letter (opera)

"The Letter" is an opera by composer Paul Moravec and librettist Terry Teachout. It was commissioned by the Santa Fe Opera and will be premiered there on July 25, 2009. [ Santa Fe Opera press release with details of the 2009 season, 30 April 2008] ]

The opera is based on "The Letter", a 1927 play adapted by W. Somerset Maugham from one of his short stories. The play has been filmed twice. The first version, called "The Letter", was made in 1929 and starred Jeanne Eagels. The better-known 1940 version, also called "The Letter", starred Bette Davis and Herbert Marshall and was directed by William Wyler.

Development of the opera

The collaboration

Both Moravec and Teachout are making their operatic debuts with "The Letter". Teachout began writing the libretto in November of 2006 and started posting an ongoing account of the opera's genesis and development on his blog, [ About Last Night] , when the commission was announced by the Santa Fe Opera on May 9, 2007. He describes it as "a cross between a verismo opera like "Tosca" and a "film noir" like "Double Indemnity" or "Out of the Past". We don't want "The Letter" to sound old-fashioned--Paul's musical language is in no way derivative of Verdi or Puccini--but we do want it to move fast and hit hard." [ [ "Men at Work (III)", "About Last Night", 17 September 2007] ]

In May 2008 Moravec and Teachout discussed the opera at a press conference held in Santa Fe. Moravec called it “an opera "noir", a music drama about ordinary people who make a few mistakes and suddenly find themselves swept into very deep emotional water. It combines the aesthetic of American verismo with dream-like qualities often characteristic of a psychological drama. We intend it to be as fast-moving and hard-hitting as a "film noir" from the ’40s.”

Teachout added that their goal was “to write a work that’s firmly rooted in traditional operatic practice--one that will make dramatic sense to mainstream audiences.”

Teachout plans to continue posting about "The Letter" on his blog between now and the opera's premiere. [See the "External links" section below for the progress of the Teachout blogs]

Production plans

The premiere will feature soprano Patricia Racette and baritone Anthony Michaels-Moore (who appears in Santa Fe's 2008 "Falstaff"). The two appeared together in the Metropolitan Opera's new 2008 production of "Peter Grimes". The production will be directed by British theatre and opera director, Jonathan Kent, whose work has been seen in Santa Fe several times, and conducted by Patrick Summers of Houston Grand Opera. Hildegard Bechtler will design the sets. The costumes will be designed by the well-known fashion designer Tom Ford, who is making his debut as a stage designer with this production.



:Place: Malaya :Time: 1924

Leslie Crosbie, a British expatriate who lives with her husband Robert on a rubber plantation in the jungles of Malaya, shoots and kills Geoff Hammond on the verandah of her bungalow. She claims that Hammond, a neighbor, had tried to rape her. Howard Joyce, her lawyer and Robert’s best friend, learns of the existence of a letter sent by Leslie to Hammond on the day of the murder which suggests that she and Hammond were lovers. The letter is in the possession of Hammond’s mistress, a Chinese woman who offers to sell Leslie the incriminating letter for ten thousand dollars on the eve of her murder trial. Joyce obtains the money from Robert under false pretenses and buys the letter, after which Leslie is acquitted. When Robert finds out what really happened, he tells Leslie that he loves her in spite of what she has done. “With all my heart,” she replies, “I still love the man I killed!”

The opera is in eight scenes. It is expected to run for approximately ninety minutes and to play without an intermission.


External links

Chronological links to Terry Teachout's blog

* [ "Lend me your ears (and eyes)", 9 May 2007]
* [ "Men at work", 11 July 2007]
* [ "Men at work (II)", 13 August 2007]
* [ "Men at work (III)", 17 September 2007]
* [ "Men at work (IV)", 17 December 2007]
* [ "For better and worse", 15 January 2008]
* [ "Men (and women) at work (VI)", 10 March 2008]
* [ "Entries from an unkept diary", 1 April 2008]
* [ "The case for lower-case opera", 2 April 2008]
* [ "The envelope please", 30 April 2008]
* [ "Right turn at Albuquerque", 12 May 2008]
* [ "Moment's notice", 20 May 2008]
* [ "Men at work (VII)", 7 July 2008]
* [ "Scene stealing (I)", 3 August 2008]
* [ "Scene stealing (II)", 4 August 2008]
* [ "Becoming an artist", 9 September 2008]

Other links

* [ "Biographer Called upon for Opera Libretto": interview with Terry Teachout, "The Biographer's Craft", June 2008, Vol. 2, No. 4]

* [ The Santa Fe Opera's website]

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