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World Premiere of New American Opera "The Scarlet Letter" to be Presented by Opera Colorado This May
Wednesday, February 03, 2016
Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Classic American Novel Set to Music by Composer Lori Laitman, With Libretto by Colorado Poet David Mason

This May, 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 a return to a three-production season in 2016-17.

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 Laura Claycomb as Hester Prynne in her Opera Colorado debut. Claycomb takes the place of Elizabeth Futral, who has had to withdraw from the production due to personal health reasons. Additional cast members include: 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.  

“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, to our upcoming presentation of Laura Kaminsky’s As One in 2017, and now the world premiere of The Scarlet Letter,” 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.”  Carpenter continued, “We are sorry that Elizabeth has had to withdraw from the production and wish her all the best. We are thrilled that Laura Claycomb was available to step into the role of Hester Prynne. We know that Laura will bring this role to life in a most compelling way and we look forward to introducing her to our audiences.”

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. Since that performance, Laitman has updated the opera’s score—re-orchestrating the entire work, expanding the choral writing, and tightening up the dramaturgy.
“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. 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 Coloradans.”  

“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 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 recently announced the return to a three-production season in 2016-17, the appointment of Ari Pelto as the first Music Director in its history, and a new five-year strategic plan 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 three 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 the past three fiscal years with operating surpluses.

Opera Colorado’s 2016-17 season will include an inventive new staging of Giacomo Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West; the Colorado premiere of As One, a groundbreaking multimedia chamber opera by Laura Kaminsky; and Gaetano Donizetti’s classic work Lucia di Lammermoor.   

About The Scarlet Letter
In old Boston, a young woman, Hester Prynne, has been charged with adultery and forced to wear the scarlet letter “A” embroidered on her breast. Just as she mounts the scaffold to receive her sentence, her husband, long presumed dead and newly escaped from captivity among the Native Americans, arrives and recognizes her. This man, renamed as Roger Chillingworth, begins a quest to discover the father of Hester's child. As the community wrestles with whether or not to allow Hester to continue raising her daughter, Chillingworth moves in with the pale young minister, Arthur Dimmesdale, who hides the fact that he is the father of Hester's child. In a dark night of the soul, Arthur is taunted by a local witch, and it becomes clear that he is overcome with guilt and inner conflict about his past with Hester. The two lovers meet in the forest to plot their escape, sure they can flee the laws and mores of men in this new world. But Dimmesdale cannot forget his guilt, and during an election day ceremony he confesses his sin to the crowd, exposing a branded letter “A” over his own heart. Dimmesdale dies at the moment of his confession, and the opera moves out into a broader, lyrical sense of time in which its stories are at least partly resolved.

The Scarlet Letter by Lori Laitman
May 7, 10, 13, 15, 2016

Cast
Laura Claycomb, Hester Prynne
Dominic Armstrong, Arthur Dimmesdale
Malcolm MacKenzie, Roger Chillingworth
Daniel Belcher, Governor Bellingham
Margaret Gawrysiak, Mistress Hibbons
Kyle Erdos Knapp, John Wilson

Creative Team
Lori Laitman, Composer
David Mason, Librettist
Ari Pelto, Conductor
Beth Greenberg, Director
Erhard Rom, Set Design
Terese Wadden, Costume Design
Robert Wierzel, Lighting Design
Thopher Blair, Projection Design

  
July, 2017
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