Heartbeat Opera on first-ever ‘Fidelio’ tour

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2022 Fidelio cast, from left: Derrell Acon, Curtis Bannister, Kelly Griffin, Victoria Lawal and Corey McKern.
Heartbeat Opera

Heartbeat Opera — the New York indie opera company whose re-imagined, re-orchestrated, and stripped-down stagings of classic operas have been called “radical” by The New Yorker and “pioneering” by The New York Times — is thrilled to mount a four-city tour of its acclaimed 2018 adaptation of Beethoven’s masterpiece, Fidelio.

Heartbeat Artistic Director, Ethan Heard conceived Fidelio for the era of Black Lives Matter.

The tour begins at home in New York’s Metropolitan Museum on Feb. 10, 12, and 13, before traveling to California and Arizona.

In Heartbeat’s Fidelio, Leonore is now “Leah,” a young Black woman, and her husband Florestan is “Stan,” a Black Lives Matter activist who has been wrongfully incarcerated by Pizarro, a white supremacist prison warden.

Leah dreams that she becomes “Lee,” a female prison guard, who attempts to rescue Stan from death in prison.

Together with playwright Marcus Scott, Heard has made the dialogue fresh and American, with new updates since the 2018 version, eliminated two major roles, and altered the ending.

The opera’s most famous moment is the Prisoners’ Chorus in Act 1—”O welche Lust”—when the prisoners are allowed out into the open air for a brief time, and they sing a gorgeous ode to freedom, hope and the human spirit.

Heartbeat said it invited six prison choirs to learn a new version of this hymn, and Heard and Heartbeat co-music director Daniel Schlosberg traveled to the prisons to work with and record the singers.

“All six audio recordings will be layered and combined with video from choir rehearsals, so that the audience hears the voices and sees the faces of more than 100 incarcerated people in Ohio, Iowa, Minnesota and Kansas, singing together in harmony,” Heard said.

“Schlosberg’s new orchestration—for two French horns, two cellos, two pianos, and percussion — channels the emotional core of the opera, pulling listeners through a vast yet intimate journey into Leah’s psyche,” she added.

Heard said Heartbeat is “thrilled to continue its work on this Fidelio, updating the libretto once more 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,” she said.

Award-winning bass-baritone Derrell Acon is a uniquely accomplished performer whose repertoire ranges from the comic to the tragic.

His accomplishments in music have established Dr. Acon as a leader in artistic activism through music performance.

Recent roles include Escamillo in Opera Ithaca’s Carmen and Antron McCray in the Pulitzer Prize-winning production of The Central Park Five with Long Beach Opera.

Acon is the vice president of People Operations & Inclusion at Opera Philadelphia and Associate Artistic Director at Heartbeat Opera in New York City.

Chronicled by Time Out Magazine as “radiating with slowly simmering energy” and described as a “quiet revelation” by the L.A. Times, Curtis Bannister is establishing himself as one of the most dynamic and multi-genre performing artists of his generation for his “magnificent voice and singing” (Chicago Classical Review).

The recipient of the 2021 Actors Equity Foundation Roger Sturtevant Award for outstanding talent in musical theater, Bannister began the 2021/22 theater season recording with TV star Heather Headley, for Goodman Theater’s 2021 Gala.

Kelly Griffin demonstrates her versatility by bringing life to roles in both classic repertoire and new music workshop showcases.

This season, she has appeared in Heartbeat Opera’s innovative visual album, Breathing Free and the dramatic new one-act opera in developmental presentation: The Extinctionist by Daniel Schlosberg and Amanda Quaid.

Griffin was also featured in Silas Farley’s ballet, Songs from the Spirit, commissioned by MetLiveArts at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Nigerian-American soprano Victoria Lawal’s 2021-2022 season boasts an affinity for new works and familiar repertoire.

Lawal presents a solo recital at the Pasadena Conservatory prior to debuting the role of Marzelline (Marcy) in Heartbeat Opera’s critically acclaimed Fidelio.

This season, Lawal stars in The Knock, a world premiere operatic film, commissioned by The Glimmerglass Festival. Additional Glimmerglass roles include debuting the role of Erste Dame in Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte and originating the role of Isabelle in The Passion of Mary Cardwell Dawson.

Award-winning baritone Corey McKern continuously earns critical acclaim and accolades in every appearance he makes.

Of his performance as Figaro in Il barbiere di Siviglia, critics hailed: “Corey McKern… has all the goods to rise to star stature — timing, stamina, vocal heft and an easy-going stage presence — especially telling in Figaro’s signature aria, ‘Largo al factotum della citta.’”

Recent engagements include the Count in Bliss with Michigan Opera Theatre and Older Thompson in Glory Denied with Opera Birmingham.

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