The Scarlet Professor: Cast Member Interviews
Thursday, September 14, 2017
Thursday, September 14, 2017
The Scarlet Professor, a new opera based on the book by Barry Werth, opens this weekend at Smith College’s Theater 14 (visit scarletprofessoropera.com for info). Two of the five productions (9/23 at 8pm, 9/24 at 3pm) feature a Young Artist cast consisting of Five College students.
Three UMass Amherst music student are Young Artist cast members, Amanda Lauricella MM '18, Caroline Lee '19 and Jessica Toupin '18. They recently shared their thoughts about this evocative and timely production.
How does preparing for this production compare to others in which you’ve participated?
Amanda Lauricella (“Mental Hospital Doctor”): The Doctor is one of the few characters in the cast that is fictional and not based on an actual person, so it has been exciting to contribute to the initial development of her character as it relates to the entire story. It's also been challenging, as her character is compassionate but at the same time perhaps a bit judgmental of Arvin's "condition" and truly believes he needs to be "cured."
Caroline Lee (“Truman Capote”): The biggest hump to get over when preparing for this production was the music. I have never sung modern, atonal music before and it was hard to first learn the correct notes, and then make it a musical phrase of a sentence instead of merely singing the correct notes.
Jessica Toupin (“Hester Prynne”): This production has given all of us students the opportunity to be a part of a professional rehearsal process, one that I’ve found to be invaluable as an aspiring opera singer. Since this is a new work, we have also had the opportunity to have deep, complex conversations about character relationships and development throughout the show.
One interesting element of this project is that students were matched with mentors from the professional cast. What did you take away from that experience?
AL: It has been such a blessing to work with my professional counterpart, Kristen Watson. I have learned so much through observing her and all of the musical and physical subtleties she brings. Kristen and all of our professional cast members have been so helpful to the young artist cast with the musical and dramatic interpretations of our characters.
CL: It has been such an amazing and unique experience to get to work with Bryan Pollock and the other professional vocalists. I’ve learned so much just from watching them every day at rehearsal and getting their feedback on my work. Above all, I’ve appreciated being able to just talk with them about what their careers are like and how they got to where they are now.
JT: It has been incredibly helpful to me as a young aspiring opera singer to study with my professional counterpart, Blythe Gaissert. She has taught me so much about the opera business today and she is a fantastic example of how to be a great colleague.
What part of the story do you find most fascinating?
AL: I find the fact that there is no "hero" of the opera fascinating. Each character has heroic moments but is also flawed, including our protagonist, Newton Arvin. There is so much gray area when it comes to our characters, which makes for interesting discussion.
CL: The scene in which the Doctor is speaking to Arvin about her hopes for how homosexuality will be viewed in society was fascinating. It’s astounding to me that until recently, people like the Doctor hoped that homosexuality would be seen as a problem with an individual’s neurology instead of a reason to scorn them for having a "moral sickness," as the Doctor calls it.
JT: I think the show is beautifully complex, in that it takes place almost completely in Arvin's own imagination. The libretto brilliantly illustrates the mental struggles of Arvin throughout the show, and I think the seamlessness with which the show moves between his imagination and real-life events is truly fascinating.
In your opinion, how does Professor Arvin’s story translate to today’s world?
AL: So much of our actions today stem from our concern about what others think of us. Arvin struggles with the shame he feels from being homosexual, which makes him incredibly sensitive to the judgment of others. I think everyone can relate to this fear of being judged for who you truly are.
CL: Despite the fact that our society has progressed a lot from the 1960s in how we view homosexuality and mental illness, there is still a large body of people who either do not accept or understand this as well as other topics, such as gender identity. Some believe that individuals should bear a stigma for being a part of certain segments of society, like homosexuals in the case of Arvin or adulterers in Hester Prynne’s time. The issues are all treated similarly, just set in different periods of our history.
JT: There are many elements of Professor Arvin's story that translate to today's world. Ultimately, this show speaks to the struggle one faces when their identity is challenged by society. This opera is unique in the way that you can see this struggle manifested differently in each character and in the chorus. Today, we live in a world where people are actively fighting being suppressed by societal pressures, and I think Newton's story illustrates this journey to self-acceptance in a beautiful, heart-wrenching way.