The Letter is an opera version of Somerset Maugham’s play, with a libretto by Terry Teachout, commissioned and premiered by Santa Fe Opera in 2009. Maugham’s story is perhaps best known in its 1940 film adaption by the masterly director William Wyler, starring Bette Davis. Terry and I call our collaboration an opera noir .
The story is set in British Malaya in 1928. As the curtain rises Leslie Crosbie shoots Geoff Hammond, her neighbor, later telling her husband that Geoff had tried to rape her. In fact, Leslie and Geoff were having an affair, and she shot him when he tried to break up with her—but Geoff’s Chinese mistress knows what really happened, and she has the evidence, in the form of a letter written by Leslie - hence the title of the opera.