The Scarlet Libretto


Words for Lori Laitman’s opera, The Scarlet Letter
Based on the story by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Award-winning poet and librettist David Mason, author of Ludlow and other books, has given new life in verse to Hawthorne’s classic novel. By distilling the book’s narrative line and adding a charged lyricism of his own, Mason has created ...

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Words for Lori Laitman’s opera, The Scarlet Letter
Based on the story by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Award-winning poet and librettist David Mason, author of Ludlow and other books, has given new life in verse to Hawthorne’s classic novel. By distilling the book’s narrative line and adding a charged lyricism of his own, Mason has created another magnificent work in his ongoing poetic portrait of America.
In old Boston, a young woman, Hester Prynne, has been charged with adultery and forced to wear the scarlet letter “A” embroidered on her breast. Just as she mounts the scaffold to receive her sentence, her husband, long presumed dead and newly escaped from captivity among the Indians, arrives and recognizes her. This man, renamed Roger Chillingworth, begins a quest to discover the father of Hester’s child. As the community wrestles with whether or not to allow Hester to continue raising her daughter, Chillingworth moves in with the pale young minister, Arthur Dimmesdale, who hides the fact that he is the sought-after father. In a dark night of the soul, Arthur is taunted by a local witch, and it becomes clear that he is overcome with guilt and inner conflict about his past with Hester. The two lovers meet in the forest, plotting their escape, sure they can flee the laws and mores of men in this new world. But Dimmesdale cannot forget his guilt, and during an election day ceremony he confesses his sin to the crowd, exposing a branded letter “A” over his own heart.
A tale of conflict between an astonishing woman and her thwarted and thwarting community, of a minister’s guilt and a husband’s vengeance, Mason’s Scarlet Libretto casts new light on Hawthorne’s classic, on the tension between freedom and responsibility, and on the secrets in the human soul.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Auden discovered in opera an ideal forum for the modern poet’s public and heroic voice. David Mason is a poetic dramatist of the first order, and his Scarlet Letter not only renders Hawthorne’s masterpiece as memorable (and eminently singable!) verse. It fashions for the stage—and the page—one of America’s original myths with a brilliance that revivifies the past while remaining true to the present. That he has partnered with Lori Laitman, one of our finest contemporary composers, signals a classic in the making. But read it before you see it! Mason’s libretto is a dramatic poem with a flawless music all its own.”
—David Yezzi

“Adapting a classic novel into an opera libretto is no mean feat, but poet David Mason has accomplished it with flair. In Mason’s Scarlet Libretto, Hawthorne’s classic novel emerges newly clothed in elegant, lyrical verse; its vivid characters and absorbing dramatic situations seem newly minted. A wordsmith of formidable dramatic gifts, Mason’s writing is a perfect foil for opera, and his collaboration with composer Lori Laitman is a perfect match. The chance to read Mason’s lyric libretto apart from Laitman’s brilliant score makes one appreciate how seamlessly words and music mesh in this opera. The Scarlet Libretto is a magical work by two like-minded artists who have created aural alchemy and produced an American opera that should become a classic repertory piece.”
—Carol Kimball

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781597091701
  • Publisher: Red Hen Press
  • Publication date: 3/1/2012
  • Edition description: 1st Edition
  • Pages: 80
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 0.40 (d)

Meet the Author

David Mason is the Poet Laureate of Colorado. His books of poems include The Buried Houses (winner of the Nicholas Roerich Poetry Prize), The Country I Remember (winner of the Alice Fay Di Castagnola Award), and Arrivals. His verse-novel, Ludlow, won the Colorado Book Award in 2007, and was named Best Poetry Book of the year by the Contemporary Poetry Review and the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. It was also featured on the PBS NewsHour. Mason is the author of an essay collection, The Poetry of Life and the Life of Poetry, and a memoir, News from the Village, which appeared in 2010. A new collection of essays, Two Minds of a Western Poet, followed in 2011.
Mason has also co-edited several textbooks and anthologies, including Western Wind: An Introduction to Poetry, Rebel Angels: 25 Poets of the New Formalism, Twentieth-Century American Poetry, and Twentieth-Century American Poetics: Poets on the Art of Poetry. His poetry, prose, and translations have appeared in such periodicals as The New Yorker, Harper’s, The Nation, The New Republic, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Times Literary Supplement, Poetry, Agenda, Modern Poetry in Translation, The New Criterion, The Yale Review, The Hudson Review, The American Scholar, The Irish Times, and The Southern Review. He has also written the libretti for composer Lori Laitman’s oratorio, Vedem. He recently won the Thatcher Hoffman Smith Creativity in Motion Prize for the development of a new libretto. A former Fulbright fellow to Greece, he lives near the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs and teaches at Colorado College.

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