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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.


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.


Selections from Vedem to be performed by Opera Orlando, November 5, 2017

Opera Orlando, in partnership with Florida Symphony Youth Orchestra and the Holocaust Memorial Resource and Education Center of Florida, will present selections from Vedem, my Holocaust-themed oratorio with librettist David Mason. I will be in residence to present lectures around this performance and David Mason will also attend the performance. For details, please click here


THE SCARLET LETTER CD - Naxos release is Aug. 11, 2017

Under Greg Carpenter's leadership, Opera Colorado brilliantly brought The Scarlet Letter to life in May 2016. A generous grant from The Sorel Organization enabled us to capture the live performance for this CD, which Naxos is releasing on August 11, 2017. Librettist David Mason and I are so grateful to conductor Ari Pelto, chorus master John Baril, the stellar cast and creative team, as well as recording engineers Marlan Barry and Jamey Lamar, for their efforts in producing this exceptional recording. We are so honored to be part of Naxos' catalogue of American Opera Classics.


To order the CD, please click here.

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