Opera review: ‘Garden of Martyrs’ packs Academy of Music     Springfield Republican

“The audience was on its feet almost before the curtain could be raised for the curtain calls, raining down ‘bravoes’ on Sunday afternoon’s sold-out performance of the new opera ‘The Garden of Martyrs.'”

“With a superb cast, excellent chorus, and 28 members of the Springfield Symphony Orchestra under Kevin Rhodes’ direction pressed into service, Sawyer and Erdman’s creation was in able hands…Sawyer’s writing for the chorus was particularly successful. Their expression of malevolent glee at the prospect of the hanging, “The Swinging of the Bones” was chilling, and their final utterance, “The Lord God Made A Garden,” brought tears to more than one pair of patron’s eyes.”

A Transcendent New Opera                                                              Boston Musical Intelligencer

“While clearly of particular local interest, the story has wider, even international resonance. It is a compelling opera, and the production was outstanding and the performances convincing.”

“Sawyer’s music…subtly draw[s] us into the story. At the outset, confronted with a mob, we feel like observers, but we become more involved and attached to the characters such that by the end we feel we are a part of the mob listening to Cheverus’s funeral oration. We understand the messages of forgiveness and redemption and of the danger of catastrophic events resulting from rushed actions and hidden agendas.”

“One of the striking features of the work is the libretto. It is tight, smooth, unaffected modern speech, much of it prose but in several instances rhyming verse with virtually no artificiality…The language speaks directly to the audience.”

“The versatile sets designed by Smith College professor Ed Check featured drops, lowered and raised in rapid action, that bore framed shapes, suggesting angel wings or stained-glass windows, that were covered with translucent fabrics that allowed characters on a platform behind and above to be seen backlit, creating a veil-like separation for flashbacks.”

The Garden of Martyrs: Review                                              Berkshire Bright Focus

“exciting, lyrical music which adds a veritable undertow of sound which sweeps the listener under the briny sea that sweeps inland to swallow up the negative history of human indiscretions.”

“Harley Erdman has successfully separated out his characters through their own words, their way of speaking… Erdman never once loses his characters which is a most wonderful aspect of this sung play. Eyes closed you can tell who is saying something. His terse and terrific libretto is matched in the tonal qualities of Eric Sawyer’s music… The music is sweet and strong and sometimes stunning, as in back to the wall-knees weak stunning… Sawyer produces musical imagery that is simply spectacular.”

“Hite is amazing. That’s the only way to describe this role and his work in it. Cheverus is a demanding stage role and Hite has the sustainability to handle it. He brings many things to bear here, including a perfect tone and a splendidly interpretive attack on the role. His third act confession aria with Jamy’s interpolations is a show-stopper.”

Boston Classical Review

“[The] tension was made all the more palpable by Sawyer’s score. His music brims with spacious intervals, transparent textures, and agitated rhythms, all of which came alive through the crisp playing of the Springfield Symphony Orchestra.”