In the summer of 2009 the world premiere of The Letter arrived special delivery from composer Paul Moravec and librettist Terry Teachout. A hard-boiled dame cooks up her own little Singapore fling. Her double-crossing lover gets a lethal dose of lead as a lovely parting gift. Her sap of a husband helps her get away with murder. Almost… Opera’s classic ingredients—lust, adultery, and revenge—are dished up noir style in this world premiere production. The Letter will be conducted by Patrick Summers and staged by Jonathan Kent, with scenery by Hildegard Bechtler and costumes by Tom Ford. Patricia Racette stars as the venomous Leslie Crosbie, Anthony Michaels-Moore plays her husband and James Maddalena is their ethically challenged lawyer.
Composed by Paul Moravec
Performed in English
The opera is set in British Malaya between the world wars. The weather is hot and humid at all times.
Scene I The Murder
The Crosbie’s bungalow
Six gunshots are heard in the darkness. Leslie Crosbie is discovered standing over the body of Geoff Hammond. She telephones John Withers, a colonial official, and asks him to come at once, bringing her husband Robert.
Scene II The Confession
The same, two hours later
Withers, Robert Crosbie, and Howard Joyce, Robert’s lawyer, have arrived. Leslie tells them that she shot Geoff when he tried to rape her. Joyce explains that they will have to leave for Singapore, where Leslie will be arraigned on a charge of murder; he is puzzled by the fact that several gunshots seem to have been fired while Geoff was lying on the ground. Leslie claims to have been so upset that she can’t remember exactly what happened.
Scene III The Letter
Howard Joyce’s law office in Singapore, two weeks later
Joyce tells Robert he expects Leslie will be acquitted, especially now that Hammond was known to be living with a Chinese woman. Ong Chi Seng, Joyce’s law clerk, tells him that Leslie sent a compromising letter to Hammond on the day of the murder. He shows Joyce a copy of the letter and says that it will cost ten thousand dollars to buy the original from Hammond’s mistress.
Scene IV The Interview
Leslie’s jail cell, an hour later
At first Leslie denies having written the letter, but then admits it is genuine. In a flashback, the actual events are portrayed: Leslie killed Geoff after he announced he was leaving her for his Chinese mistress. Leslie pleads with Joyce to buy the letter in order to save her life. He reluctantly agrees to seek Robert’s permission to do so.
Scene V The Club
The Singapore Club, late that afternoon
Joyce tells Robert about the letter, explaining its significance but not showing him the copy. Robert agrees to pay whatever is necessary to purchase it.
Scene VI The Woman
Joyce’s office, later that night
Ong Chi Seng arrives with Hammond’s mistress. After some hesitation, she agrees to sell the letter.
Scene VII The Verdict
A Singapore courtroom, the next day
The judge asks the foreman whether the jury has reached a verdict. To Leslie, the foreman appears to be the blood-soaked Geoff Hammond, who finds her guilty and condemns her to death by hanging. The real-life foreman announces that she has been acquitted.
Scene VIII The Truth
The bungalow, that same evening
Robert announces that he plans to move with Leslie to Sumatra, where he has found an estate for sale. Joyce informs him that his savings were wiped out in order to purchase the letter, and Robert demands to see it. When he 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!”
- Leslie Crosbie - Patricia Racette
- Chinese Woman - Mika Shigematsu
- Geoff Hammond - Roger Honeywell
- Ong Chi Seng - Rodell Rosel
- John Withers - Keith Jameson
- Robert Crosbie - Anthony Michaels-Moore
- Howard Joyce - James Maddalena
- Conductor - Patrick Summers
- Director - Jonathan Kent
- Scenic Designer - Hildegard Bechtler
- Costume Designer - Tom Ford
- Lighting Designer - Duane Schuler
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