The Scarlet Letter

2008, revised 2016. Full length opera in 2 Acts, to libretto by David Mason. Running time with intermission: 2.5 hours

Opera Colorado presented the professional world premiere of the opera The Scarlet Letter by composer Lori Laitman and librettist David Mason in May of 2016.

“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

The CD was named one of the top 5 CDs of 2018 by Fanfare Magazine:

“Lori Laitman has written brilliantly scored music…eminently singable vocal lines…she avoids the basic pitfall of new American opera; dumbing the music down to insure audience acceptance…A fine rhymed libretto; terrific, well-crafted music.” (Nov/Dec 2018)

The Scarlet Letter was named a Critic’s Choice in Opera News:

“Lori Laitman’s score succeeds with a surging, sweeping, unapologetically tonal landscape that offers carefully etched character portraits, rapturous choral expostulations and lush orchestrations of insistently tuneful melodic motifs.” (January 2018)

Gramophone Magazine wrote: “The first thing that leaps into one’s ears is the sheer beauty of the music…[Laitman’s] ability to meld words with lyrical, often soaring lines is on abundant display…The score pinpoints the distinctive qualities of the characters…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.” (October 2017)

The opera calls for 3 leading roles:

  • Hester Prynne, a seamstress: lyric or coloratura soprano
  • Arthur Dimmesdale, a young minister: lyric tenor
  • Roger Chillingworth, a doctor: dramatic baritone

3 minor roles:

  • Mistress Hibbons, a witch: mezzo-soprano
  • John Wilson, an elder minister: tenor
  • Governor Bellingham: baritone

and Pearl, Hester’s young daughter: non-speaking actor.

The opera is scored for chamber orchestra with a minimum of 40 players.

The opera was commissioned by The University of Central Arkansas through Robert Holden and the UCA Opera Program. The world premiere took place at The University of Central Arkansas on November 6, 2008 at the Donald W. Reynolds Performance Hall at UCA in Conway, AR.

Opera Colorado, under Gregory Carpenter’s leadership, presented the May 2016 premiere with Laura Claycomb as Hester Prynne, Malcolm MacKenzie as Roger Chillingworth, Dominic Armstrong as Arthur Dimmesdale, Daniel Belcher as Governor Bellingham and Margaret Gawrysiak as Mistress Hibbons, with Beth Greenberg directing and Ari Pelto conducting the Opera Colorado Orchestra. Erhard Rom was the set designer, lighting design by Robert Wierzel and Amith Chandrashaker, video design by Topher Blair and costume design by Terese Wadden. Keun-A Lee served as Music Staff.

Recent productions:

February 10-13, 2022: The University of Oklahoma, Norman, OK
April 8-9, 2022: Wichita State University, Wichita, KS

To listen to an excerpt from Beyond All Price (Hester’s lullaby from Act I, Scene 2), please click here

To listen online on SoundCloud, click here.

For the libretto and album information, click here.

To purchase the CD, click here.


In old Boston a young woman, Hester Prynne, has been charged with adultery and forced to wear the scarlet letter ‘A’ embroidered on her breast. Just as she mounts the scaffold to receive her sentence, her husband, long presumed dead and newly escaped from captivity among the Indians, arrives and recognizes her. This man, renamed as Roger Chillingworth, begins a quest to discover the father of Hester’s child. As the community wrestles with whether or not to allow Hester to continue raising her daughter, Chillingworth moves in with the pale young minister, Arthur Dimmesdale, who hides the fact that he is the father of Hester’s child. In a dark night of the soul, Arthur is taunted by a local witch, and it becomes clear that he is overcome with guilt and inner conflict about his past with Hester. The two lovers meet in the forest, plotting their escape, sure they can escape the laws and mores of men in this new world. But Dimmesdale cannot forget his guilt, and during an election day ceremony he confesses his sin to the crowd, exposing a branded letter ‘A’ over his own heart. Dimmesdale dies at the moment of his confession, and the opera moves out into a broader, lyrical sense of time in which its stories are at least partly resolved.

The opera libretto, by award-winning poet and librettist David Mason, is now available. Click here to purchase at Amazon or here to purchase at Barnes & Noble.

For more information and to hear demo tracks, please visit

Latest News about The Scarlet Letter

The Journal of Singing (May/June 2018) reviews THE SCARLET LETTER CD

The Scarlet Letter featured on WWFM’s Sunday Opera Broadcast with Michael Kownacky

The Scarlet Letter will be the featured opera to be broadcast on on January 28, 2018 at 3 pm EST.

To listen live, click here.

Gramophone Review of The Scarlet Letter

In October 2017, Donald Rosenberg reviewed The Scarlet Letter for Gramophone Magazine. The review is printed below.

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 honour 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.