Singing the Story

Photo by Skylhur Tranqille

When Five College Opera takes the Theatre 14 stage in mid-September to present the world premiere of The Scarlet Professor, current Smith students and professors will be among those singing the story of a Smith scholar from the 1960s.

The Scarlet Professor tells the story of Newton Arvin, an esteemed literary critic who was arrested in Northampton in 1960 for possession of gay magazines and photos that were, at the time, deemed pornographic. Featuring music by Amherst College professor Eric Sawyer and a libretto by University of Massachusetts professor Harley Erdman, the opera is based on a book by Northampton author Barry Werth.

For Rosalie Toupin ’20, The Scarlet Professor provides an opportunity to return to her high school passion of musical theatre. For Hannah Holmberg ’19, a music major, it’s a chance to explore new aspects of opera. 

For Smith English professor Floyd Cheung, who sings with his church choir but who has never been on stage, participating in the opera’s chorus has provided an opportunity to take on “a significant new challenge.” Cheung—who speaks easily of topics like “growth mindset” and “self-efficacy”—says coaching from his wife (“she can play piano”) and careful time management (he practiced the score over the summer and has adjusted his schedule for the four weeks of fall rehearsal) made meeting the challenge possible.

“I’ve learned so much,” Cheung says. “And I’ve loved working with the production team and my fellow performers.”

The Scarlet Professor is being developed through an innovative model that allows students to work side-by-side with a cast of professional singers. Performances on September 15-17 will feature the professional cast, while performances September 23 and 24 will feature students and faculty from the Five Colleges.

Ticket Information

The Scarlet Professor will be performed by a professional cast Friday-Sunday, Sept. 15-17, and by Five College students Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 23 and 24. All performances will take place in Theatre 14 of the Mendenhall Performing Arts Center at Smith College. Tickets, which are free for Five College students, are available online

Related Symposium

A September 16 public symposium will address sexual and political repression, sexual shaming in American culture, and sexual identities and civil liberties on college campuses in the 1960s and today. The event takes place from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in Sage Hall.

Several current and emerita Smith faculty members—including Jennifer DeClue (study of women and gender), Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz (American studies) and Michael Gorra (English language and literature)—will serve as panelists at the event, which is sponsored by Smith’s departments of English, American studies, SWAG, music and theatre. The symposium is also sponsored by the Smith College Dorius/Spofford Fund and the Smith College Lecture Committee.

Full schedule and additional information about the symposium is online