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Heartbeat Opera Announces Radically Staged Adaptations Of Two Classics: TOSCA And LADY M, April 11-23

Both shows feature Daniel Schlosberg's world premiere chamber arrangements with Schlosberg's orchestrations front and center.

Heartbeat Opera Announces Radically Staged Adaptations Of Two Classics: TOSCA And LADY M, April 11-23

Heartbeat Opera returns to Baruch Performing Arts Center with its beloved Spring Festival for the first time since its acclaimed DER FREISCHÜTZ in 2019. Heartbeat has become synonymous with visceral hit productions such as a FIDELIO that recruited real prison choirs as the chorus, and a CARMEN that cut the famous "Habanera" from the opening but inserted it as the harrowing finale-and its Spring Festival promises more bracing surprises.

From April 11-23, 2023, two operatic masterpieces get the Heartbeat treatment on back-to-back nights in rep: Puccini's TOSCA and Verdi's MACBETH (retitled LADY M).

Both shows feature Daniel Schlosberg's world premiere chamber arrangements with Schlosberg's orchestrations front and center, and sound design and electronics woven into LADY M, and lush reimaginings of Puccini's score for TOSCA.

Two fierce female directors will lead the productions: Shadi G., who grew up in Tehran, directs TOSCA, setting it under threat of authoritarian censorship; and longtime Heartbeat artist Emma Jaster directs LADY M, envisioning the story of Macbeth through the eyes of Lady Macbeth (the germination of a project Heartbeat began in 2020).

In Heartbeat's TOSCA, Puccini's iconic story of love and revolution becomes daringly real when a troupe of singer activists decide that tonight they will risk everything to perform the uncensored version of Tosca - in which corrupt officials are murdered, revolutionaries are executed, and, most importantly, a female heroine interrupts the cycle of violence. They race to tell their whole story before the authoritarian forces lurking in the wings press in.

This brand new adaptation, which translates Puccini's masterpiece from Rome's 1800 police state to the modern-day world of religious authoritarian regimes, is by Iranian-American director Shadi G. and Heartbeat Artistic Director Jacob Ashworth. At its heart, this production asks what it means to make art where freedom of expression does not exist-where even love is banned from the stage. Supertitles will be in Farsi and English, and Farsi dialogue and singing will appear in the show.

In Heartbeat's TOSCA, censorship reigns supreme, and artists risk their lives to tell the truth. Heartbeat brings that looming feeling of danger and suspicion to the fore through intentional double-casting. The Sacristan, Spoleta, and Act 3 Jailer are all played by one singer-actor, underscoring the fact that no one living under police rule can be sure who is an informant, who is a revolutionary, and who is working for the state. Similarly, [spoiler alert] Angelotti appears first as a political prisoner and hero of the revolution, and returns in Act 3 as the Shepherd, now an old man, singing in Farsi from the rooftop next door.

Jacob Ashworth conducts Heartbeat's biggest band yet of 8 players-Ashworth's second Puccini opera with the company after his "richly detailed, yet delicate" rendering (The New Yorker) of BUTTERFLY in 2017. Daniel Schlosberg's arrangement features three cellos to echo Puccini's famous 4-cello opening of Act 3, as well as bass, piano, trumpet, horn, and flute. The Te Deum chorus at the end of Act 1 is performed using inventive sound design, and is sung only by men (women in this regime are not allowed to sing in religious contexts). The unsettling male voices underscore that the victory at the end of Act 1 is a victory for the regime.

With TOSCA, Heartbeat continues to build on what they learned performing Puccini in BUTTERFLY in 2017. In the words of Jacob Ashworth, "Puccini's score is so seductive and emotionally captivating. It allows us to dive headlong into a retelling of the story that is both incredibly modern and perfectly timeless. Highly specific, yet universally relatable. Working with Shadi on this adaptation since the spring of 2022 has given me such joy and purpose, and I am relishing getting to do what I love most: staying so true to a piece we all love while finding a radical way of exploding it from the inside into something new and powerful that makes use of all that opera can be."

In Heartbeat's version of Verdi's Macbeth, women drive the story, and magic takes many forms: mystical, technological, and psychological. Power and ambition become tangled with gender, race and class as they manifest in our contemporary American lives. Emma Jaster, who has been Heartbeat's Movement Director on countless projects, directs Ethan Heard and Jacob Ashworth's adaptation, conjuring a bracingly contemporary couple as the Macbeths, along with a complete sonic and dramatic reimagining of Verdi's witches (here known as the Sisters). The opera is pared down to only 6 singers: Lady Macbeth, Macbeth, and Banquo, plus the three Sisters. Oblivious to the Sisters who toil constantly at the borders of her privileged life, Lady M chases the ascent that will destroy her marriage, her sleep, and her sanity.

Leaning on its theater background, Heartbeat incorporates parts of Shakespeare's text that Verdi did not include. Most important among these are the lines "I have given suck, and know how tender 'tis to love the babe that milks me." This crucial clue to Lady Macbeth's having been a mother and lost a child - and the unimaginable grief that comes from that - is left out of the Verdi but is central to this production.

Music Director and Arranger Daniel Schlosberg's brand new orchestration features piano, violin, clarinet, trombone, guitar, percussion, each doubling on an impressive array of additional instruments. Heartbeat's adaptation distills Verdi's chorus of witches down to a virtuosic trio, the Sisters, honoring Shakespeare's original "Weird Sisters" and endowing each sister with a soloist's importance. Picking up where Heartbeat Opera's 2019 Der Freischütz left off, Schlosberg infuses the score with electronic music and sound design, especially as it pertains to magic. The music of the witches is recomposed and plays with the Verdi, making use of modern vocal techniques and compositional styles to evoke the same haunting, mischievous, otherworldly effect that Verdi's chorus had in 1847.

LADY M is the live culmination of Heartbeat's "riveting" (Opera News) early pandemic venture, Lady M: An Online Fantasia, for which Heartbeat sold out 32 online soirees in 2020. The critical reception was wild: The Washington Post said it "hacked the corporate contours of Zoom into a postmodern proscenium"; Operawire wrote "Heartbeat's 'Lady M' Virtual Soirées will be remembered as groundbreaking"; Opernwelt said "With LADY M on Zoom, New York company Heartbeat Opera managed to create an artwork for our time during lockdown"; and New York Magazine's discerning Approval Matrix dubbed it "High brow and brilliant."

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