“My shame has escaped from that dark room.
What can I do but retreat once again
into the darkness corner of my heart,
into the coldest and remotest part
of the Dismal Chamber?”
So sings Newton Arvin in his opening aria in The Scarlet Professor. Publically outed as gay in small town New England in 1960, his secret life exposed, his face plastered across national newspapers—facing this disgrace and humiliation, he voluntarily commits himself to Northampton State Hospital to retreat from the circus that his world has become. “The Dismal Chamber,” our opera’s central verbal and musical motif, is at once many things: the room in Salem where Nathaniel Hawthorne (Arvin’s idol) isolated himself from the world to write...