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“The most beautiful thing humanity can achieve,” says Heartbeat Opera Co-Artistic Director Ethan Heard about Opera

Heartbeat Opera is breathing new life into the 400+ year old art form. This weekend, New Yorkers will have the opportunity to take in the company’s Spring Festival. Believe me – you don’t want to miss it!

Fortunately for us, Co-Artistic Director Ethan Heard was willing to take a little time out of his busy schedule to answer a few of our questions about Heartbeat Opera.

[Photo above: Heartbeat Opera Co-Artistic Directors Ethan Heard and Louisa Proske]

Heartbeat Opera
Photo by Andrew Boyle

​That moment when music, drama, dance, and design all come together to support a fabulous performer channel a universal human emotion. That, for me, is the height of civilization — the most beautiful thing humanity can achieve.

Joe Schmo, an opera buff and traditionalist, is going to be attending Heartbeat Opera’s Spring Festival next week, but has no idea what to expect. Is there anything that he needs to know before the first note?

​Heartbeat Opera creates radical adaptations of classic operas in intimate settings.

Your description of Butterfly:

“White male artists invented the tragic geisha, Madama Butterfly, and in so doing fueled a stereotype that has dominated Western imagination ever since. This daring new adaptation of Puccini’s iconic romance explodes that legacy of fetishization and exposes the Sorrow left behind.”

Without giving too much away, how does your adaptation “explode the legacy of fetishization”?

Heartbeat Opera
Photo by Andrew Boyle

We are looking at the stereotype of the “tragic geisha” through the eyes of a nine-year-old Asian-American boy who is trying to understand his parents’ romance and separation. The boy falls into a dream of MADAMA BUTTERFLY which eventually becomes a nightmare. He sees Cio Cio San as a modern woman, and later, as a fantastic mixture of Orientalist stereotypes. By illuminating and leaning into the fetishism in the libretto and the score, we hope to problematize material that has often been skimmed over.

I only have enough time (and cash) to see Butterfly or Carmen. Which should I attend?

Both productions deal​ with reaching across cultural borders. Both productions are visceral and sexy. Both operas are beloved masterpieces of the operatic canon. BUTTERFLY is in Italian. CARMEN is in French and English. Come to the opera you’re most curious about!

Heartbeat Opera
Photo by Russ Rowland

What is Collaboret?

​COLLABORET is an evening of Collaboration-Lab-Cabaret. We have gathered an eclectic group of artists to share music-theater offerings that expand the definition of opera. Composer/performer ​Marisa Michelson, joined by her ensemble of singers, Constellation Chor, will share new work from SAPPHO FRAGMENTS, a vocally virtuosic piece based on Sappho’s poetry as translated by Anne Carson. Sara Serpa will perform with her jazz trio. And Heartbeat alumna mezzo soprano Kristin Gorinstein ​will improvise with violinist Ryan Drickey​ based on themes provided by the audience.​

Finish this sentence: Heartbeat Opera’s greatest strength is…

the agility and flexibility of our collaborators. We work with performers, designers, technicians, and managers who are driven to forge the future of opera.

Are there any boundaries Heartbeat Opera isn’t willing to push?

We always strive for a juicy balance of reverence and irreverence. In other words, we honor the material but also look for fun ways of presenting it in a fresh way.

What’s next after the Spring Festival?

We’ll be back in the fall with our annual drag extravaganza! Stay tuned…​

I’m going to finish by asking you a question I ask everyone: what is it about opera that touches your souls?

​That moment when music, drama, dance, and design all come together to support a fabulous performer channel a universal human emotion. That, for me, is the height of civilization — the most beautiful thing humanity can achieve.

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