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World Premiere of New American Opera The Scarlet Letter
Friday, June 19, 2015
In May 2016, Opera Colorado will present the world premiere of The Scarlet Letter—a new adaptation of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s iconic American novel by composer Lori Laitman and librettist David Mason. The premiere marks yet another major milestone for Opera Colorado, which recently announced significant success following the launch of a careful restructuring campaign that addressed the Company’s economic uncertainties, ensured the continuation of its exceptional programming and educational initiatives, and established a strong foundation for future growth. The Scarlet Letter continues the Company’s commitment to presenting contemporary and rarely performed works in addition to classic opera repertoire.  

“Opera Colorado is committed to presenting new American opera—from our co-production of John Adams’ Nixon in China in 2008, to the presentation of Daniel Catan’s Florencia En El Amazonas in 2012, and now with the world premiere of The Scarlet Letter in 2016,” stated General Director Greg Carpenter. “Lori Laitman and David Mason have created a truly American opera which speaks to social issues that are just as relevant today as they were over 160 years ago when Hawthorne first published his celebrated novel.”

Opera Colorado’s production of The Scarlet Letter will be the first professional staging of the opera, which was commissioned by The University of Central Arkansas in 2007 and performed by students and faculty in 2008. Subsequently, Laitman has updated the opera’s score, including expanding the choral writing, tightening up the dramaturgy and re-orchestrating the entire work.  Under the direction of Beth Greenberg, who is making her Opera Colorado debut, and with set design by Erhard Rom and costume design by Terese Wadden, Opera Colorado’s premiere of The Scarlet Letter will feature soprano Elizabeth Futral as Hester Prynne; baritone Malcolm MacKenzie as Roger Chillingworth; tenor Dominic Armstrong as Arthur Dimmesdale; mezzo-soprano Margaret Gawrysiak as Mistress Hibbons; baritone Daniel Belcher as Governor Bellingham; and tenor Kyle Erdos Knapp as John Wilson.  

“David Mason and I are thrilled to have Opera Colorado present the world premiere of our opera The Scarlet Letter at the beautiful Ellie Caulkins Opera House in Denver,” said composer Lori Laitman. “Greg Carpenter and Ari Pelto have assembled an unparalleled cast and artistic team, led by Elizabeth Futral as Hester Prynne and Beth Greenberg as Director. The Scarlet Letter is a timeless American tale which addresses the plight of individuals in conflict with a severely repressive and uniform society. Hester Prynne’s unflagging strength serves as an inspiration to all. I have composed the score with the goal of honoring the text by creating memorable melodies, complex harmonies, and powerful orchestrations to reveal the inner psyche of each character and illuminate the drama of every scene.  We all look forward to sharing this new work with the public.”

“Nathaniel  Hawthorne’s classic American text is rich with themes that are very much at the forefront of our country’s cultural and social challenges today—from the role of religion in our society, to women’s rights, to the nature of community,” said librettist David Mason. “In The Scarlet Letter, we breathe new life into these themes and invite the audience to see them in a new light. I am thrilled that Opera Colorado will present the work to the Rocky Mountain Region, and share the work with my fellow Coloradoans.”  

“Staging a new work, especially one as beautiful and resonant as The Scarlet Letter, is an exciting challenge for a director,” said Director Beth Greenberg. “I heard about ten seconds of Lori's music, stopped the CD, and immediately called her. Her musical voice is so clear, so compelling, and so original. Together, Laitman and Mason are an extraordinary team—they get straight to the heart of a character, resulting in a listener's effortless engagement.”

In addition to the main stage production, Opera Colorado commissioned Laitman to create a one-hour, touring version of the full length opera to share the new work with communities across the United States. The work will be toured with Opera Colorado’s Young Artists at various locations throughout the Colorado Front Range beginning in the fall of 2016. Young Artists are emerging opera professionals who come to Denver for a seven-month residency, during which they receive training and coaching from Opera Colorado staff and guest artists.

Laitman and Mason’s collaborations also include Vedem, an oratorio based on writings by children from the Terezin concentration camp and a new opera, Ludlow, based on Mason’s epic verse novel about the tragic Colorado mining town massacre that took place in 1914. Laitman and Mason began working together in 2004, when Laitman was asked by The West Chester University Poetry Conference to set Mason’s poem Swimmers on the Shore to music. When the University of Central Arkansas approached Laitman about creating a new opera, she asked Mason to write the libretto, and together they chose The Scarlet Letter.  In addition to the 2008 performance by the University’s faculty and students, excerpts of this early version of the work were also presented at the Clinton Presidential Library in 2009 and at the OPERA America Salon Series.  

Opera Colorado’s premiere of The Scarlet Letter is another major milestone for the Company, which has continued to see significant growth and success from the completion of a restructuring campaign in 2013. Last month, The Company announced the appointment of Ari Pelto as the first Music Director in its history as it looks to increase and diversify its programming and repertory, build the national scope of its Young Artists program, and further extend the Company’s reach through engagements in venues outside of the traditional opera house. The Company preemptively embarked on a reorganization initiative in 2012 to address an operating deficit from lower-than-anticipated ticket sales and fundraising shortfalls. The reorganization included postponing the premiere of The Scarlet Letter by two years and moving to a two-production season, as well as introducing other measures to reduce operating overhead. Since the restructuring, Opera Colorado has garnered valuable support from the community, achieved higher-than-anticipated ticket sales and sold-out performances, and ended both the 2013 and 2014 fiscal years with surpluses.

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