Fire, by composer James Rolfe, was the dark centre of the show; it captured the troubling ambiguity of a poem by Andre Alexis about the murder of children and the lynching (or burning?) of the man who supposedly killed them. Rolfe’s deceptively simple, hymn-like setting had an undercurrent of anxiety that built into a climax of unbearable intensity. – Tamara Bernstein, The National Post (Toronto), 20 June 2000


Once we get to Fire, however, with its text by André Alexis, set by James Rolfe (the composer of Beatrice Chancy), we have arrived not only at the performance’s most potent fusion of music and word, but its emotional core, a memorable journey into darkness. – Urjo Kareda, Toronto Globe and Mail, 17 June 2000


Monumental.  Mesmerizing.  Breathtaking.  These words are barely adequate in describing James Rolfe’s and George Elliott Clarke’s brilliant new opera Beatrice Chancy . . . a seamless, masterful combination of music and drama. – Ron Foley MacDonald, Halifax Daily News, 14 August 1999


Make no mistake:  Beatrice Chancy is the triumphant event of the operatic season.  James Rolfe’s music drama . . .is chamber-sized only in scale.  Its imagination and depth of feeling are vast, even overwhelming.  With Beatrice Chancy, I felt I was face to face with the future of opera–and its breath was hot.  Rolfe has understood, as few other composers of new opera have, that opera is emotion and melody is character . . . The music of Beatrice Chancy is astonishing.  Sophisticated in its eclecticism, it hints at, or often quotes, black spirituals, ring shouts, freedom songs, blues, gospel, hymns, insistent percussion, as well as Nova Scotia fiddling.  But this range of source material has been subtly shaped, and is deployed utterly for expressive effects.  Each of the six characters has a distinct, complex musical profile.  The music takes us intimately inside them, and thus when the big emotional moments come–and there are many–the impact is gigantic.  An experience of the magnitude of Beatrice Chancy brought, for all of us, our hearts into our throats. – Urjo Kareda, Toronto Globe and Mail, 22 June 1999


Drop, with its quirky references to a passé form, was not the right way to write a sonata, but it was the right way to write this piece. It simply turned toward a different truth; more important, it gave the listener plenty of room to turn it back again. – Elissa Poole, Toronto Globe and Mail, 1 February 1999


[Beatrice Chancy] enriched our literature with one of the most effective chamber operas heard in Toronto in years . . . it packs a considerable impact. – William Littler, Toronto Star


Rolfe accommodates [the libretto of Beatrice Chancy] with a melody-driven score that keeps the vocal lines in the forefront at all times . . . He’s clear, clever, and remarkably fluid in his borrowings, but more to the point, they ring true. – Elissa Poole, Toronto Globe and Mail, 20 June 1998


[Beatrice Chancy’s] power comes from a mixture of the eloquent poetry of the text, the strong dramatic stage action and the moving and accessible music that is citational in ways which make it both resolutely contemporary and historically resonant. – Linda and Michael Hutcheon, Canadian Theatre Review, No. 96 (Fall 1998), p. 7


The delicate economy of Toronto composer James Rolfe impressed, with a telling use of space in Before After. – James Manishen, Winnipeg Free Press, 22 January 1996


But perhaps the most startling piece of the evening [was] Canadian James Rolfe’s Rimbaud setting Fêtes de la Faim . . . The effect was, in the end, powerful and succinct. – Laurence Hughes, Tempo, June 1993


Rolfe’s Railway Street . . . turned out in retrospect to be the most pleasant surprise of all the works heard [during Gaudeamus Music Week]. – Erik Voermans, Het Parool [Amsterdam], 14 September 1992


The Nieuw Ensemble livened up the proceedings with the intransigent Railway Street by the Canadian James Rolfe.  With a minimum of materials, Rolfe knows how to set up a watertight argument.  Percussive pulses, colour, and tension are served up with refinement.  A strong piece. – Frits van der Waa, de Volkskrant [Amsterdam], 14 Sept. 1992


This tightly focussed work [Idiot Sorrow] took nothing for granted, gaining its few pitches as though with difficulty, claiming for itself a region of purity where small departures could be startlingly dramatic.  Its first half was a long and captivating aggregation that began from a single semitone  . . .  It was a fine and thoughtful work from a Toronto composer who should be better known. – Robert Everett-Green, The Toronto Globe and Mail, 5 Feb. 1991