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James H. North
Fanfare, March 2018

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 Read complete review

Joanne Sydney Lessner
Opera News, January 2018

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 Read complete review

Dianne Wells
The WholeNote, October 2017

As Dimmesdale, tenor Dominic Armstrong’s talents are showcased with long, dramatic episodes of hysteria and guilt. Also remarkable is baritone Malcolm MacKenzie, as the husband bent on revenge. Prynne, on the other hand, proving to be much more stalwart of character, is given a much calmer, gentler musical portrayal. Soprano Laura Claycomb shines in the lullaby sung to daughter Pearl; as a singer, she manages some amazingly high notes without ever sacrificing Prynne’s aura of tenderness. The Opera Colorado Chorus does an excellent job standing in judgement of all. An interesting project indeed and well executed. © 2017 The WholeNote Read complete review

Donald Rosenberg
Gramophone, October 2017

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. © 2017 Gramophone Read complete review on Gramophone

David Denton
David's Review Corner, August 2017

Set in 17th century puritanical Boston, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s famous novel, The Scarlet Letter, formed the basis of David Mason’s libretto for Lori Laitman’s opera. Musically it has its parentage in early 20th century American opera, which itself owed much to Italian ‘verismo’ opera of the previous century. The story of Hester who has a baby girl from an adulterous relationship has left her in a prison cell, having steadfastly refused to reveal its father. The return of her long-lost husband, now known as Roger Chillingworth, does not resolve the situation, but on taking up lodgings with the minister, Arthur Dimmesdale, he begins to suspect he was the father. It is several years later, and with Hester once again free, she meets Dimmesdale in a forest. They profess their love for one another, and the desire to flee and live together. That he then rejects, deciding he has to confess his guilt to everyone, an action that proves too much for his failing health, and he drops dead at her feet as he addresses the assembled crowd. It was a scenario that makes it ideal for an opera with the love triangle of, Dimmesdale, Chillingworth and Hester, the congregation and do-gooders of the neighbourhood forming big choral scenes. It is not a long opera, its two acts lasting short of two hours, Laitman having started work on the score in 2008, it was 2016 before its many revisions led to a staging by Opera Colorado in Denver. Hearing this ‘live’ recording taken from four performances, the newspaper critics do seem to have been unduly harsh on the work. True, it is ‘old-fashioned’ in its musical language, but it has all the attributes that draw people to listen to the familiar opera repertoire. The role of Hester technically asks a lot of Laura Claycomb, the writing often taking her into outer-space, but her vocal characterisation is that of a very hard character who failed to generate my sorrow. As Dimmesdale and Cullingworth, the tenor and baritone of Dominic Armstrong and Malcolm MacKenzie, are satisfying in their firm and well-focussed voices. Good chorus and orchestra, and the sound of stage movements are few, but couldn’t two totally inappropriate moments of applause in the first act have been edited out? © 2017 David’s Review Corner

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