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Heartbeat Opera Announces 2021-2022 Season

Highlights include MESSY MESSIAH, FIDELIO, and more.

Heartbeat Opera Announces 2021-2022 Season

HEARTBEAT OPERA will return to the in-person stage for its eighth season this year. Heartbeat's 2021-22 season kicks off in September with a free outdoor screening of BREATHING FREE, their visual album that connects Beethoven's Fidelio with the work of Black composers and lyricists such as Harry T. Burleigh, Langston Hughes, and Anthony Davis to manifest a dream of justice, equity, and breathing free. BREATHING FREE builds on Heartbeat's 2018 work with incarcerated singers and prison choirs, and continues its exploration of race and the American prison system. Then in December, Heartbeat's beloved annual drag extravaganza, MESSY MESSIAH, returns after six years of Halloween shenanigans for a new Christmas special. Looking ahead to winter 2022, Heartbeat plans to go on its first-ever tour, remounting its production of FIDELIO, which Joshua Barone of The New York Times called "urgent, powerful, and poignant," for seven performances across four cities, kicking off at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Heartbeat will later present its pilot production of NO EVIL projects, QUANDO, ossia Project "0," which is co-produced with Long Beach Opera and refashions music from Verdi's operas La Traviata and Don Carlo and Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice into a 25-minute short film. Heartbeat also continues to work on its first-ever commission, THE EXTINCTIONIST, an opera by Heartbeat Co-Music Director Daniel Schlosberg, librettist Amanda Quaid, and Heartbeat Co-Founder & Resident Director Louisa Proske. The Extinctionist wrestles with climate catastrophe and with one woman's unorthodox choice, with the goal of presenting its world premiere in winter 2023.

At the helm are Artistic Director Ethan Heard, Associate Artistic Director Derrell Acon, Co-Music Directors Jacob Ashworth and Daniel Schlosberg, and Managing Director Annie Middleton. Heartbeat Opera was founded in 2014 and has since grown from an indie "start up" into an internationally recognized player, consistently hailed as a leader in envisioning the future of opera.

The 2021-22 Season

BREATHING FREE, a visual album

September 18 at Pier 63, Hudson River Park Trust
At dusk
A free outdoor screening with live performances
(Additional future screenings TBA)

Focusing on Black empowerment in the arts
Featuring excerpts from Beethoven's Fidelio, Negro Spirituals, and songs by
Harry T. Burleigh, Florence Price, Langston Hughes, Anthony Davis, Thulani Davis

Director: Ethan Heard
Filmmaker: Anaiis Cisco
Creative Producer: Ras Dia
Co-Music Directors: Jacob Ashworth & Daniel Schlosberg
Movement Director: Emma Jaster

Watch Breathing Free Trailer

2021 Drama League Award Nominee for Outstanding Digital Concert Production

In 2018, Heartbeat collaborated with 100 incarcerated singers in six prison choirs to create a contemporary American Fidelio told through the lens of Black Lives Matter. In 2020-the year of George Floyd's murder, a pandemic which ravages our prison population, and the 250th anniversary of Beethoven's birth-they curated a song cycle, brought to life in vivid music videos, mingling excerpts from Fidelio with Negro Spirituals and songs by Black composers and lyricists, which together manifest a dream of justice, equity... and breathing free.

Jamilyn Manning-White in DRAGUS MAXIMUS, photo by Andrew Boyle


December 16 at 8pm and December 17 at 7 and 9:30pm
at Roulette in Brooklyn

Directed by Ethan Heard
Music Directed by Jacob Ashworth
Arranged by Daniel Schlosberg

Watch WNET's ALL ARTS feature on Heartbeat's drag extravaganzas

Heartbeat's beloved annual drag opera extravaganza returns in all its glory this December. Over the past seven years, Heartbeat has presented six fabulous extravaganzas at venues across Brooklyn: Hot Mama: Singing Gays Saving Gaia; Dragus Maximus: a homersexual opera odyssey; All the World's a Drag! Shakespeare in love...with opera; Queens of the Night: Mozart in Space; Miss Handel; and Purcell's The Fairy Queen. These interdisciplinary celebrations playfully mix opera classics with pop culture and drag to create an otherworldly experience that encourages audience members to embrace opera in new ways.

This year, the show moves to December-just in time for Christmas. Featuring familiar tunes by Handel, Tchaikovsky, Berlin, and many more, this naughty pageant celebrates the holidays with wit and warmth. Expect tradition...with a peppermint twist.

Kelly Griffin in FIDELIO, photo by Russ Rowland


Heartbeat's first tour

February 10, 12 & 14, 2022 at Met Live Arts, New York City
February 19 at The Mondavi Center, UC Davis, California
February 22 at The Scottsdale Performing Arts Center, Arizona
February 26 & 27 at The Broad Stage, Santa Monica, California

Music by Ludwig van Beethoven
Original libretto by Joseph Sonnleithner & Georg Friedrich Sonnleithner
Adapted & Directed by Ethan Heard
Arranged & Music Directed by Daniel Schlosberg
New English Dialogue Co-Written by Marcus Scott & Ethan Heard
Featuring Derrell Acon (Roc), Curtis Bannister (Stan), Kelly Griffin (Leah),
Victoria Lawal (Marcy), Tim Mix (Pizarro)
and more than 100 incarcerated singers in six prison choirs

Heartbeat was planning to take its Fidelio on tour in 2020, the 250th anniversary of Beethoven's birth. Then the pandemic hit, affecting incarcerated people especially and forcing them to postpone the tour. Then George Floyd was murdered, sparking a much-needed racial reckoning. Now, with humility and a renewed sense of purpose, Heartbeat has the opportunity to bring the tour back and even expand it. The story of their Fidelio is more urgent and timely than ever:

A Black activist is wrongfully incarcerated. His wife, Leah, disguises herself to infiltrate the system and free him. But when injustice reigns, one woman's grit may not be enough to save her love. Featuring the voices of imprisoned people, this daring adaptation pits corruption against courage, hate against hope.

Heartbeat is thrilled to continue its work on this Fidelio, updating the libretto for our current moment, deepening the company's commitment to anti-racism in all that they do, collaborating more with their prison choir partners, sharing the production, and sparking important conversations. This tour is Heartbeat's largest and most ambitious venture yet. They have the opportunity to reach thousands of new audience members, including hundreds of young people, in four cities across the country.

QUANDO, ossia Project "0"

In-person screenings w/live performances in NY and Long Beach, April 2022
A co-production with Long Beach Opera
The pilot production of NO EVIL Projects

Creative Produced by Derrell Acon
Music Directed and Arranged by Daniel Schlosberg
In-person screenings with live performances in New York and Long Beach in April 2022
(dates TBC)

Some of the most beautiful and famous music from the operatic canon becomes the landscape for this fierce social satire of sex, activism, and the performance of everyday life. Music from Verdi's operas La Traviata and Don Carlo and Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice are repurposed and refashioned into a 25-minute short film that follows a starry-eyed young couple as their night on the town unravels into a surrealist swirl of decadence, intrigue, and ultimately, vengeful justice.

The short film, a co-production with Long Beach Opera and produced by Heartbeat's newly-appointed Associate Artistic Director Derrell Acon, will be screened as is, and then followed by a second presentation that features live composer-performers actively disrupting and reconstituting the music from the score for a one-of-a-kind theatrical experience. No two performances will be the same, as the ending will change with each iteration of the live performances, and audiences will be challenged to re-examine their perceptions of art and its role in societal transformation.

NO EVIL is an initiative meant to create a self-replenishing fund of seed money for new projects in the opera field by BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color) creators. Acon is in conversation with OPERA America, the Sphinx Foundation, and other industry colleagues about the full structure of NO EVIL Projects, which has an anticipated launch of 2022.

Says Acon: "As Arts Equity Specialist for the OPERA America New Works Forum, I had the opportunity to facilitate all-BIPOC adjudication panels for granting, and was deeply impressed by the nuance of perspective and intentionality centered in those discussions. I am convinced that the financial barriers experienced by marginalized creators in the field require even more attention and action-and, frankly, MONEY!"


A new one act opera

Music by Daniel Schlosberg
Libretto by Amanda Quaid, based on her play
Directed, Conceived, and Developed by Louisa Proske
Music Directed by Jacob Ashworth

World Premiere Production Coming in Winter 2023

During the 2020-21 season, Heartbeat Opera commissioned its first-ever opera, The Extinctionist, a one-act work that grapples with the catastrophic effects of climate change and one woman's unorthodox choice to sterilize herself to save the planet and become the very first "Extinctionist." The dark comedy turns one woman's body into the battlefield of our political anguish, conflicting desires, and individual responsibility.

This past May, The Exctintionist was featured in The New York Times, which chronicled Heartbeat's longtime commitment to reimagining classic works and its new expansion into commissioning. A semi-staged production of the opera was presented in May 2021 at PS21 in Chatham, New York, and the world premiere is slated for Winter 2023.

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