Heartbeat Opera Announces BREATHING FREE

Breathing Free runs December 4- 12.

By: Oct. 28, 2020
Get Access To Every Broadway Story

Unlock access to every one of the hundreds of articles published daily on BroadwayWorld by logging in with one click.

Existing user? Just click login.

Heartbeat Opera Announces BREATHING FREE

HEARTBEAT OPERA-the radical indie opera company "leading the charge in online opera" (Parterre) with "groundbreaking" virtual content (Operawire) that is "hacking the corporate contours of Zoom into a postmodern proscenium" (Washington Post)-announces BREATHING FREE, an ambitious six-part virtual series from December 4-12, dedicated to the celebration of Black artistic voices.

Breathing Free builds on Heartbeat's 2018 collaboration with 100 incarcerated singers in six prison choirs, part of a contemporary Fidelio told through the lens of Black Lives Matter-a production that left Alex Ross of The New Yorker "blindsided by its impact." Now, in a year of George Floyd's murder, a pandemic which ravages our prison population, and the 250th anniversary of Beethoven's birth-Heartbeat curates a song cycle brought to life in vivid music videos, mingling excerpts from Fidelio with songs by Black composers and lyricists, which together manifest a dream of justice and equity.

This 45-minute "visual album" features three singers, three dancers, eight instrumentalists, and a robust creative production team. Rehearsed remotely on Zoom, the cast has recorded their individual audio tracks at home, with the music team then layering the tracks together. Heartbeat's filmmaker Anaiis Cisco collaborates with cinematographers to film the performers in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles.

The presentation will be live-streamed along with live opening remarks and a fascinating lineup of live panel discussions (see below). Special guests include formerly incarcerated singer Michael "Black" Powell (on December 5), who was a member of KUJI Men's Chorus in Marion Correctional Facility (he was released in May 2020 when COVID-19 took over the prison). Powell made a strong impression on Heartbeat artistic director Ethan Heard and music director Daniel Schlosberg when they visited KUJI rehearsal in March 2018. "An expressive singer and actor, he had the 'O Welche Lust' excerpt from Fidelio fully memorized in German, and seemed to relish the opportunity to perform for camera," recalls Heard. Additional guests on 12/5 will be members of Echoes of Incarceration, which provides training in documentary filmmaking and activism for youth with incarcerated parents.

Heartbeat is also partnering with three groups of students in a substantial education program which invites young people to use their voices in art-making and activism.

Panel Descriptions

Friday, December 4 at 8pm

BREATHING FREE: Break Every Chain
From the Mayflower to Mass Incarceration, from chattel slavery to "superpredators," the "land of the free" has the highest incarceration rate in the world, dehumanizing and disenfranchising especially its citizens of color with its prison system. Who is free?

Panelists include:

The Innocence Project, which exonerates the wrongly convicted through DNA testing and reforms the criminal justice system to prevent future injustices

Bernard Harcourt, Executive Director of the Eric H. Holder Initiative for Civil and Political Rights at Columbia University

Saturday, December 5 at 8pm

BREATHING FREE: Voices of Incarceration
Focusing on the lived experience of incarcerated and formerly incarcerated singers, Heartbeat highlights its prison choir collaborators-alongside artists from the award-winning documentary initiative Echoes of Incarceration, produced by youth with incarcerated parents.
Additional panelists include:
Michael "Black" Powell, the formerly incarcerated singer from Heartbeat's 2018 Fidelio
Cathy Roma, Director of 2018 Fidelio's participating prison choirs: UBUNTU (London Correctional Institution, Ohio); HOPE Thru Harmony Women's Choir (Dayton Correctional, Ohio); KUJI Men's Chorus (Marion Correctional Institution, Ohio)

Sunday, December 6 at 3pm

BREATHING FREE: Reparations Now!
The school-to-prison pipeline, the public housing crisis, and disproportionately violent policing account for just a fraction of our nation's predatory abuse of black & brown communities. How can art expose this addiction to oppression, demand justice, and commit to equity and making amends?
Panelists include:
James Rucker, Co-founder of Color of Change
Anthony E. Cook, Civil Rights Lawyer and Professor, Georgetown Law School

Thursday, December 10 at 8pm

BREATHING FREE: Black Queer Revolution
Beethoven's Leonore dressed as a man; Heartbeat's Leah seduces a woman. In the flesh, black queer artists and activists redefine gender norms, and inspire old and new generations with their revolutionary lives. Heartbeat shines a critical light on the intersectionality of Blackness in America.

Friday, December 11 at 8pm

BREATHING FREE: To Decolonize Opera
In the wake of Europe's Renaissance and Enlightenment periods, 16th, 17th, 18th, and 19th century opera rose to masterful heights with its dramaturgy of justice, freedom, and truth, while ignoring the Euro-American genocide and enslavement of over 12 million African people.
How did opera participate by looking away? And what would decolonizing opera look like?
Panelists include:
Davóne Tines, bass-baritone (will moderate)
Sue Dixon, General Director of Portland Opera

Sunday, December 12 at 3pm

BREATHING FREE: To Love Radically
In Beethoven's Fidelio, love overcomes injustice. What sustains today's activists in the struggle to defund, disarm, and dismantle all systems of oppression, and show up for communities of color in unique and powerful ways? Join Heartbeat in celebrating resilience, tenderness, and action.


"Balm in Gilead" - traditional, arr. Sean Mayes

"Lovely Dark and Lonely" - music by Harry T. Burleigh, words by Langston Hughes

Malcolm's aria from X (The Life and Times of Malcolm X) - music by Anthony Davis,
libretto by Thulani Davis, story by Christopher Davis, arr. Sean Mayes

"Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child" - traditional

"Songs to the Dark Virgin" - music by Florence Price, words by Langston Hughes

Four excerpts from Fidelio - music by Ludwig van Beethoven, libretto by Joseph Sonnleithner & Georg Friedrich Sonnleithner, arr. Daniel Schlosberg
"Abscheulicher!" (Leonore's aria)
"O welche Lust" (Prisoners' Chorus)
"Gott! Welch Dunkel hier!" (Florestan's aria)
"Euch werde Lohn" (Act II Trio)

Also featuring the voices of more than 100 incarcerated singers and 70 volunteers from six prison choirs: Oakdale Community Choir, KUJI Men's Chorus, UBUNTU Men's Chorus, HOPE Thru Harmony Women's Choir, East Hill Singers, and Voices of Hope

For more information visit: heartbeatopera.org.