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The Scarlet Letter

The essence of Nathaniel Hawthorne's classic Puritan tale comes to life in this beautiful world premiere of Lauri Laitman's melodic and moody opera, accompanied by the finely distilled libretto of David Mason.

Laura Claycomb as Hester Prynne
Laura Claycomb as Hester Prynne
Photo: Matthew Staver
Though writing from the Victorian era (1850), Hawthorne was familiar with the essence of Puritanism, having come from a long line of Puritan ancestors including John Hathorne, a presiding magistrate in the 17th century Salem witch trials, and the only judge involved in these trials who never repented of his actions. In the book, Hawthorne is certainly unburdening himself of that familial legacy, in a metaphorical manner, by finally offering up a confession, but on a different subject altogether.

As with Violetta Valéry in Verdi's La Traviata, the heroine is a "fallen woman" with a heart of gold; but unlike the courtesans of Paris, in Puritan New England in the 1620's, being such gets one shamed and branded with the letter "A," for adultery.

(Left to right) Malcolm MacKenzie as Roger Chillingworth and Dominico Armstrong as Arthur Dimmesdale
(L to R) Malcolm MacKenzie
as Roger Chillingworth
and Dominico Armstrong
as Arthur Dimmesdale
Photo: Matthew Staver
Hawthorne's Hester Prynne is up to the task, and in this opera's lead role we have the pleasure of Laura Claycomb's lovely soprano and strong dramatic performance. Heather outlives both her ex-husband, the bitter Roger Chillingworth (Malcolm MacKenzie), and her lover, the unrepentent and self-tortured Arthur Dimmesdale (Dominic Armstrong).

Armstrong's pleasing tenor and palpable inner tension is the pulse of the tale, as it is Dimmesdale's confession that we await. MacKenzie's sonorous baritone and lurking, revengeful presence makes Chillingworth a troubling impetus to Dimmesdales' catharsis. Beautiful mezzo work from Margaret Gawrysiak as Mistress Hibbons, another haunting presence preying on Dimmesdale's conscience.

A public place
A public place: Set design by Erhard Rom
Photo: Matthew Staver
Erhard Rom's striking set—two large moveable wooden panels, which serve as meeting house walls, projection spaces for Topher Blair's evocative projections and Robert Wierzel and Amith Chandrashaker's dramatic lighting, and psychological barriers, particularly in Dimmesdale's mind—effectively amplify the story's dynamics.

Meistro Ari Pelto and the Opera Colorado Orchestra's dynamic rendition of Laitman's score, as well as Chorus Master John Baril and the Opera Colorado Chorus' stirring passages and ensemble work, further contribute to the making of one of the finest and most promising American operas to premiere in these parts in years.

Dominic Armstrong as Arthur Dimmesdale and Margaret Gawrysiak as Mistress Hibbons
Dominic Armstrong as Arthur Dimmesdale
and Margaret Gawrysiak as Mistress Hibbons
Photo: Matthew Staver
If Hawthorne's hope for his cautionary tale was that we the living would avoid religious dogma and self-righteous judgmental moralizing, he'd be disappointed to see that this mindset is still an all too strong contemporary social meme, in the echo chamber of the cartel's corporate-owned media's regressive attitude reinforcement strategy of divide and conquer.

Opera Colorado's world premiere of Lori Laitman's The Scarlet Letter, with libretto by David Mason and stage direction by Beth Greenberg, runs through May 15th. For tickets: operacolorado.org/tickets.

Bob Bows



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