OperaFix April 9, 2018

The innovative Heartbeat Opera Company has been thrilling audiences with their new takes on the classic repertoire. We interview Louisa Proske in this extended Opera Fix.

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Heartbeat Opera, Louisa Proske

  • Spring Festival
    • Baruch Performing Arts Center, May 2-13, 2018
      • Don Giovanni
      • Fidelio
    • New York Opera Alliance
      • New York Opera Fest
  • Ethan Heard
  • Louisa Proske
  • Both had intensive musical backgrounds growing up
    • Yale School of Drama
    • Co-Music Directors of Heartbeat Opera
  • They create new instrumental arrangements for each opera production, not mere orchestral reductions. They re-invent the sound of the score in a very tight dialogue with the director’s concept.
    • Jacob Ashworth
    • Daniel Schlosberg
    • Daphnis and Chloe
    • Lucia di Lammermoor
  • Lucia was set in a mental asylum. A nameless woman is listening to a recording
    of the opera and gradually the live instruments take over. These included an
    electric guitar and keyboards.
  • The goal for Heartbeat with these reductions is not be a lesser version of The Met, San Francisco Opera, etc.
  • They also bring the musicians out of the pit. They become part of the visual storytelling.
  • Yale School of Drama created a class called:
    • The Opera Practicum
      • A joint class between the schools of Drama and Music.
      • 8 weeks every year spent with Yale opera singers.
    • Master teachers included:
      • Christoper Alden
      • Francesca Zambello
      • Stephen Wadsworth
      • Sam Helfridge
    • Student directors were encouraged to create new takes on canon operas,
    • Mozart, Handel, Donizetti, etc.
    • This class and work is what spurred the creation of Heartbeat Opera
  • What is their process for choosing and developing their season?
    • Louisa, Ethan, Jacob, Daniel & Jennifer Newman (the Producing Director)
      go away on a 5 day retreat in May or June.
    • They put all the scores on a table that they are interested in and then debate
      which will benefit best from their process.

      • Operas like: Pelleas e Melisande, Bluebeard’s Castle or Salome
    • Considerations discussed:
      • Cast size, Would it benefit from a new take, Does is plug into some
        current issue, Do they love the opera, the score, Is Dan excited about reorchestrating it, How do the two operas chosen go together
    • Then comes the slow cooking process from September through May.
    • It gives them room and time for misdirections
      • Polonius: “Through misdricetions you find directions out.”
    • They aren’t a company rich in funding, instead they are rich in development time and collaborators.
  • When do they set the work? Depending on how long the idea gestation it may continue after the start of rehearsals. The big ideas usually are there, but some things can shift.
    • Don Giovanni
      • Mozart
      • Da Ponte
    • These operas are complex, so many layers to address.
    • The Don can be seen both as a great liberator and a great destroyer.
  • Is this production going to address the #MeToo movement?
    Louisa position is always to embrace the female characters in opera because
    they have been too frequently skewed in conventional interpretations.

    • You have to go back and look at their music and their actions to give the
      audience a different way in.
  • Fidelio
    • Beethoven
    • Ethan will directly be addressing the Black Lives Matter movement, as
      well as the mass incarceration of people of color in America.
    • Ethan and Dan made contact with 6 Midwest prison choirs. They were taught
      the big choral sections, which were then audio and video recorded.
    • Major press has covered this including: CNN, NYTimes and Associated Press.
    • Louisa grew up in Germany, where her family was divided between the East and West. Fidelio had so much resonance after the wall came down. In the East, audience members would stand up during the prison chorale in identification of their coming into the light from the darkness.
  • Has socio-political engagement always been a goal of Heartbeat’s mission?
  • Or did it creep its way in as they worked on specific operas?
    • The 2016 election came right after their joyful, inclusive Drag Extravaganza.
    • The seasons operas had been chosen, Madame Butterfly and Carmen, however, Louisa threw out her whole concept for Carmen and started over. In discussion with her designers they landed on the theme of “border”.
    • The border between cultures, men and women, life and death.
    • What does it mean to “build a wall” between us and them?
      • They had cast a Texan tenor and a Mexican Mezzo, so that fed further into the differences on view for the production.
  • Beethoven and Mozart were both so tied into the political movements of their times, the French Revolution and The Enlightenment.
  • These were moments in time when the people really devoted their lives to thinking
    politically. How can we take that on board for our current period in time.
  • The current administration is trying to cut us all off from our histories, from our roots, literally cutting down on education that would allow us to see things from many
    different viewpoints.
  • Opera should not be an elitist art form for the One Percenters only, it should be for everybody and part of grounding us all as humans.
  • What was the impetus for Heartbeat’s Drag Extravaganza?
    • Ethan was a drag queen and organizer at Yale.
    • Formed the Yale School of Drag
    • When they were first starting Heartbeat Opera an idea came up to do
    • Purcell’s The Fair Queen with real fairies and queens.
      • It was about how through drag you can explode performances, by going for your most fabulous outrageous self.
    • Feeds into the traditions of Court Masques and Baroque Opera
    • Farinelli and the King on Broadway used some elements of stagecraft magic as they would have in Baroque theaters.
    • This stagecraft was developed to support the dramatic action of the operas, but also as a way to keep their audiences engaged.
  • The Drag Extravaganza is Heartbeat’s “gateway drug”
    • For people who like parties, drag, musical theater, spectacles
    • They come for one thing, but then hear the voices and music
    • They come back to see full productions later in the season

Credits: Peter Szep producer/editor

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