The Scarlet Letter

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The Scarlet Letter received its professional world premiere in May 2016 with Opera Colorado, under Greg Carpenter’s visionary leadership. A generous grant from The Sorel Organization enabled us to capture the live performance for this CD, which Naxos released in August 2017.

Fanfare Magazine‘s James H. North named The Scarlet Letter one of the top 5 CDs of 2018 in its Nov./Dec. 2018 issue:

Lori Laitman writes brilliantly scored music; it’s been a while since I’ve heard such a colorful new American opera. It has many other virtues as well: eminently singable vocal lines in which the words are easily understood—unusual even in English, a credit to the composer and to librettist David Mason as well as to the singers—plus a convincing movement along a dramatic course.

Hester is a dramatic, lyric, coloratura soprano rolled into one; Laura Claycomb is a powerful vocal actress and soars through the high tessitura. Both men handle their more limited roles carefully, with superb diction but artificial, operatic accents. Dimmesdale finally has a strong aria as he confesses and dies; tenor Dominic Armstrong rises to the occasion. © 2018 Fanfare

In January, 2018, Opera News named The Scarlet Letter a “Critic’s Choice” — As Hester, Laura Claycomb is the work’s shining center. Her soprano is supple and womanly, but its agility, especially in the upper reaches, projects an innocent purity that reaffirms Hester’s moral north star. Laitman writes riskily for her heroine, with important text couched in high-flying lines. It’s difficult to know if other, less nimble sopranos would be as intelligible, but Claycomb is always clear, affecting and sympathetic. Even before the madness of Dimmesdale’s self-dramatizing death, tenor Dominic Armstrong’s aggressive, overwrought delivery lends the tormented minister an unstable, almost villainous cast—not inappropriate, given the character’s moral ambiguity. Malcolm MacKenzie’s dignified baritone makes Chillingworth a ramrod-straight, implacable force, riven with self-loathing. Mezzo-soprano Margaret Gawrysiak is convincingly menacing as the unhinged local harpy, although her unwieldy vibrato makes both words and melody difficult to parse. As the town elders, tenor Kyle Knapp and baritone Daniel Belcher add a revealing layer of prurient interest as they badger Hester to name her lover. The choral singing is particularly strong, and the orchestra, led by Ari Pelto, is polished and precise. © 2018 Opera News 

In October 2017, Donald Rosenberg of Gramophone Magazine reviewed the CD, writing: “Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel The Scarlet Letter has inspired several operas, including rarely performed versions with music by Walter Damrosch, Fredric Kroll and Margaret Garwood. The most recent, Lori Laitman’s rapturous adaptation set to elegant verses by David Mason, received its world premiere in May 2016 by Opera Colorado. The Naxos recording of the work is drawn from those initial performances, which — at least in purely sonic terms — appear to have done great honor to this deeply affecting creation.

The first thing that leaps into one’s ears is the sheer beauty of the music. Laitman has devoted much of her career to the art song, and her ability to meld words with lyrical, often soaring lines is on abundant display in her opera. The score pinpoints the distinctive qualities of the characters. Hester Prynne, forced to wear the letter ‘A’ as a symbol of her adultery, sings in urgent, rhapsodic phrases, while her lover, the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale, ranges from anxious reflections to dramatic outbursts, and Roger Chillingworth, Hester’s estranged husband, strikes sinister notes on his vengeful path. The people of the Puritan community reveal their moral pretensions in passages of reverent rigidity.

The Opera Colorado production benefits from the presence of splendid principal singers and a fine chorus. Laura Claycomb uses her radiant soprano to poignant effect, especially when revealing the woman’s strength in the vocal stratosphere. As Dimmesdale, tenor Dominic Armstrong is forceful and touching and baritone Malcolm MacKenzie brings grave intensity to Chillingworth. Mezzo-soprano Margaret Gawrysiak is a vibrant terror as the town witch, Mistress Hibbons.

Led by Ari Pelto, the Opera Colorado Orchestra play Laitman’s score with the refinement and urgency needed to catapult this impressive and fervent opera.”

In November 2017, John Campbell of Artsong Update reviewed the CD, writing: “The powerfully expressive music was enthralling, from its choral beginning to the shattering end. Lori Latiman’s music is lyrically expressive, capturing the intricate psychology of three flawed people in an early American setting. The music is dense, complex and intense, using instrumental colors to illuminate penetrating psychological insights and vivid characters. Drawing on her wide experience of writing art songs, Ms. Laitman has crafted a rich opera of great depth. Out of her understanding of how to set the voice she has created a stunning opera for the 21st century.”

Records International reviewed the CD in August 2017 —

Laitman is one of the most prolific and fluent song and opera composers of our time, with a gift for effortless melody and for getting to the emotional heart of her texts. In her opera on Hawthorne’s classic novel she is greatly assisted by David Mason’s supremely skilful rendering of the story into verse. Laitman’s lyrical, eloquent score, firmly tonal, belongs to the tradition of the great opera composers of the past, with vividly portrayed characters whose dramatic trajectory and development is reflected in music so finely descriptive as to render staging all but redundant. Dimmesdale’s progressive disintegration of spirit, Chillingworth’s duplicitous self-deception and above all Hester’s resolve and strength of character are presented as a psychological drama of devastating insight through the power of meticulously crafted dialogue and exquisite musical color and shading. This is not a work of introverted self-examination, though; the judgmental societal mores of the day provide a dramatic backdrop in powerful choral scenes and the interaction of secondary characters. © 2017 Records International.