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Professor Mason’s ‘Scarlet Letter’ Getting Rave Reviews

The world premiere of the "The Scarlet Letter," with libretto by Colorado College Professor of English David Mason '78 and music by composer Lori Laitman, has been garnering rave reviews.

The opera, based on Nathaniel Hawthorne's classic novel and performed by Opera Colorado, opened in Denver last weekend. The work has broad appeal and enduring themes. Set in 17th-century Puritan Boston, Massachusetts, "The Scarlet Letter" explores moral injustice and religious intolerance. So compelling is the work that the sufferings and indignities Hawthorne forces upon his heroine, Hester Prynne, remain hurtful even today. Mason, the former Colorado Poet laureate, says Prynne is one of the great feminist characters in all of literature - full of dignity and courage. The story remains relevant, he says, even though it depicts an era hundreds of years old.

"We are still in a time when we need to see figures like that," Mason says. "And we need to understand what it is that confronts them and oppresses them in our culture. We're not as far removed from Puritanism as we might want to be."

The (Boulder) Daily Camera calls the opera "all-around superb," saying "Mason's adaptation of Nathaniel Hawthorne's revered but famously dense novel is astoundingly brilliant, maintaining the compelling narrative of the original but adding a layer of poetic beauty that might have made the Transcendentalist author envious."

The Denver Post notes that Mason "deconstructs Hawthorne's thick prose with his own sure hand. He breaks the story into six sections, starting with Hester's condemnation on the public scaffold and ending with Dimmedale's demise on the same spot."

In writing the libretto, Mason says "My goal was to be as true to Hawthorne as I could, but with a much simpler, lyrical poetic rendition that would be comprehensible for a modern audience. I worked hard to find language that would convey the emotional material of the scene without being as dense and overwrought as Hawthorne's prose."

The story also was carried by PBS NewsHour, and features a Colorado Public Radio interview with Mason.

The opera is playing at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House at the Denver Performing Arts Complex, 1385 Curtis St., Denver, with two performances remaining, 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 13, and 2 p.m. Sunday, May 15. Tickets begin at $20.

Report an issue - Last updated: 12/16/2020