In the days when I would have still contemplated composing an opera, my preferred source was Edgar Allan Poe's "Masque of the Red Death." A marvelous story full of both symbolism and terror, it is only five pages long and would thus require "padding" instead of the usual brutal cutting of the story. I had contemplated some sort of melding of the Poe story with Leonid Andreyev's symbolist play "The Black Maskers." However, I shall not be composing an opera, and so I decided to redirect my ideas into what might be considered an overture to an unwritten opera.
The story concerns a vain Prince, Prospero, who summons his friends to his palace and locks them in so that they will remain safe from the Red Death, a plague that is ravaging the countryside. He commands that there be a ball the "masque" but that no one is to wear red. But of course a figure clad all in red does appear; it is the red death, and it claims the lives of all in the castle.
© 2011 by Christopher Rouse
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Reprinted by kind permission of Christopher Rouse