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The University of Alabama at Birmingham to present The Secret Exit premiere

The University of Alabama at Birmingham will present the world premiere of Lori's song cycle The Secret Exit on January 26, 2018 at 5:40 pm at Temple Emanu-El in Birmingham, AL. Admission is free.
The work was commissioned by the University for soprano Kristine Hurst-Wajszczuk and clarinetist Denise Gainey, and features the poetry of Nobel Laureate Nelly Sachs. Sachs escaped from Nazi Germany in 1940 and moved to Sweden, where she remained until her death. The cycle sets three of her poems: What rose out of the white leaves of your bodyWhen in Early Summer and Child.
The cycle was conceived of as a sequel to my Holocaust-themed song set I Never Saw Another Butterfly. The artists will also premiere the work in Belgium during the summer of 2018.

The University of Alabama at Birmingham will present the world premiere of Lori's song cycle The Secret Exit on January 26, 2018 at 5:40 pm at Temple Emanu-El in Birmingham, AL. Admission is free.The cycle was conceived of as a sequel to my Holocaust-themed song set I Never Saw Another Butterfly. The artists will also premiere the work in Belgium during the summer of 2018.


Opera News Magazine names The Scarlet Letter CD a “Critic’s Choice”

Below is the Opera News Magazine review of The Scarlet Letter from January 2018.


THE WORLD-PREMIERE recording of this compelling new American opera, based on Nathaniel Hawthorne’s cautionary tale of puritanical patriarchy, captured live in May 2016 at Opera Colorado, has much to recommend it. Hawthorne’s story is unremittingly harsh as it moves from Hester Prynne’s resolute nobility to her abuse at the hands of her community and the two men in her life. She has no good options: in dramatic terms, there’s nothing to root for. Her illicit lover, the self-absorbed, deluded preacher Arthur Dimmesdale, is no romantic hero. It takes him the entire story to do the right thing and stand by Hester, but he manages to wreck that moment (and any future they might have together) by branding his chest with an “A,” precipitating his demise. Hester’s husband, Roger Chillingworth, is such a bully that it’s easy to see why she’s eager to believe he perished at sea. It isn’t so much that the story is in need of reinvention, satisfying though it would be to see Hester rip off that “A,” grab her illegitimate daughter, Pearl, and get out of Boston. Rather, it’s the potent reminder that its themes are still relevant, with factions in our country continuing to scapegoat women and children, that makes it so grim.

In spite of that, 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. David Mason’s gently rhyming libretto telescopes the plot, and the reflective moments are earned and don’t overstay their welcomes. The opening is stirring and engaging, establishing the sincerity of the townspeople’s conviction in their own rectitude. Hester’s lullaby to Pearl is refreshingly devoid of self-pity and full of maternal wonder, ending on a celestial high C. The tension-filled confrontation, during which Chillingworth poisons Dimmesdale while pretending to cure his illness, is a gripping cat-and-mouse seduction.

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. —Joanne Sydney Lessner


To purchase the CD, please click here


Fanfare Magazine reviews The Scarlet Letter

The Scarlet Letter is of course Hester Prynne’s A. In one way, the opera is a bit late; adultery is old hat in the 21st century. On a broader scale, hypocrisy in society is ever present. 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. Laitman has made her name in art songs, as several positive Fanfarereviews attest. Best of all, she avoids the basic pitfall of new American operas: dumbing the music down to ensure audience—or, more precisely, impresario—acceptance. Let me amend that: the pitfall of new American operas that do make it to performance and recording. Kudos to the University of Central Arkansas, which commissioned the opera, to Opera Colorado and its general director Gregory Carpenter, and to Naxos.

The first act sets the scene and takes much time to define the characters. Hester’s honesty, pride, and love for her child are obvious; the two men in her life are complex characters. Chillingworth, her aged, disfigured husband (whom, missing for years, she had thought lost at sea), is a doctor sworn to protect Hester and her child in prison. He has long lost the ability to love and wishes her no harm, yet he is driven by an inner storm to unearth the child’s father. No one but Hester knows he is her husband. Dimmesdale, a young minister who is the child’s father, is tortured by guilt and fear of exposure, which leads him to increasing psychic and physical illness. Throughout the first act, the two men are close, unknowing friends. Elder minister John Wilson and Governor Bellingham represent two sides of hypocritical society. Long arias in act I tend to be repetitive, making little of their fine basic material. It is part of the story’s spell, and the opera’s, that we cannot be sure just when the husband begins to suspect the minister; nor can we be sure of his intentions.

Act II accelerates the drama and blossoms musically. Hester knows: “You are become a monster, deformed by your desire to ruin someone else. The wisdom I once saw in you has withered like a rotting vine.” She and Dimmesdale meet in the forest and pledge their love, planning to sail together to a new world, a new life. Laitman’s music rises in a long impassioned duet; it’s a scene that could wow an audience at the Met. Her writing is tonal yet new, unconstrained and uninhibited by the past. Back in town (Boston), the story and the music again settle into routine. In the end, of course (Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel was published in 1850), conventional morality takes over: Dimmesdale confesses publically and dies, leaving Hester to mourn and Chillingworth to stew “in his impotent rage.” 

Hester is strength and courage, knowledge and understanding; both her men are weaker beings, damaged by convention and prejudice. So are their musics and their performers. 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. Minor roles are less clear, in intent and in performance; the “witch” Mistress Gibbons contributes little beyond a second female voice. But it is Hester that matters. The Opera Colorado Orchestra is wonderful; conductor Ari Pelto and recording producer/engineer Marian Barry balance everything perfectly.

A fine rhymed libretto, and terrific, well-crafted music; a little tightening in act I might make The Scarlet Letter a staple of American opera, on a level with Susannah and Baby DoeJames H. North

To purchase this CD, please click here.

John Campbell of Artsong Update reviews The Scarlet Letter CD

I am thrilled by John Campbell's Artsong Update review of The Scarlet Letter CD, from November 2017. The review is copied below.


The subject of this opera is an essential part of American history. Based on Nathaniel Hawthorn's (1804-1864) novel, David Mason's beautiful verse adaptation portrays a love triangle set in the Puritan society of 17th century New England. Hester Prynne has a child out of wedlock and is shamed for adultery—thus the scarlet “A” over her breast. The intrigue of the situation is her unwillingness to reveal the father. Society, then as now, thrives on gossip but out of love for him she continues to shield the father, Arthur Dimmesdale, who is pastor of the local congregation. The other man, Roger Prynne, is Hester's long lost husband, living under a false identity as Roger Chillingworth.

I usually prefer having a live staged performance or a DVD for my first exposure to a new opera. With only a CD and a downloadable libretto available so far, I found together they created an intense experience for me. The powerfully expressive music was enthralling, from it's 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.

Soprano Laura Claycomb's intensely passionate singing was just right. In The Scarlet Letter a rigid religiosity comes in contact with an untamed wilderness. As an outcast from the community, she develops a deep sense of her individuality, retaining her innocence and purity of spirit. Believing her husband was lost at sea, she is seduced into a loving relationship with Arthur Dimsdale. Hester's focus is on raising her daughter as a free spirit. Her strength of character reveals a true moral sense that contrasts sharply with the weakness of her husband and her lover, weakness that ultimately leads to their self-destruction. 

In the second act Roger admits that ”We've done each other wrong...I plucked your budding youth away and wedded you to my decay.” He has became obsessed with finding out who her lover was. Malcom MacKenzie's (Chillingworth) baritone had a cunning warmth to convince Arthur Dimmesdale (Dominic Armstrong) of his friendship. Because he chooses to remain in his official role as minister, Dimmesdale's guilt destroyed his heart by suppressing his natural love for Hester and their child, Pearl. He confesses to the community on Election day, embraces his beautiful child and her mother, standing together as a family. His heart bursts and his death cheats Chillingworth of his revenge.

Other characters include Mistress Hibbons, a witch, unforgettably sung by mezzo-soprano Margaret Gawrysiak, tenor Kyle Knapp as the elder minister John Wilson, and Governor Billingham, baritone Daniel Belcher.

Lori Laitman has written over 250 art songs, a children's opera and an oratorio and her experience prepared her well to compose The Scarlet Letter. The singers are well chosen for their roles. I highly recommend this CD (NAXOS 8.669034-35, available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble) and I hope that Tidewater Opera Initiative will consider a production soon.



To purchase this CD, please click here.

The Three Feathers - new version commissioned by Seattle Opera

I am happy to announce that Seattle Opera commissioned a new version of The Three Feathers, my children's opera with Dana Gioia. This new touring version, for five singers and piano, will premiere in January 2018 and performances will continue through June 2018. The new production will be directed by Kelly Kitchens.

For more information or to arrange a performance, please click here.

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