I nearly missed Heartbeat Opera’s “Fidelio” — reorchestrated, reduced and reimagined for the era of Black Lives Matter — and I’m so glad I didn’t. The production, staged smartly in a subterranean theater at the Baruch Performing Arts Center that already had the look of a concrete correctional facility, deftly navigated the tricky art of adaptation with new English-language dialogue (alongside Beethoven’s arias in the original German) that felt urgent and powerful without pontificating. Even the moment that most risked heavy-handedness, the Prisoners’ Chorus performed by real American prison choirs on video, turned out to be one of the most poignant. Have a listen, though be warned: The scene left me searching for tissues.
-Joshua Barone, The New York Times
A categorically imaginative company, [Heartbeat] has made its name with vital reshapings of repertory operas. I saw “Fidelio,” and was blindsided by its impact. The heartbreaking centerpiece of the production was the chorus “O welche Lust,” in which the prisoners are allowed to leave their cells. Earlier this year, Heard and Schlosberg went to correctional facilities in the Midwest and filmed Beethoven’s chorus being sung by prisoners. Several letters from prisoners were on display. One member of Ubuntu wrote, “The creativity I possess is still within me, prison has not taken away my hope.” In the theatre, a video of the prisoners’ work substituted for a live performance of “O welche Lust.” Beethoven’s music was itself a spell of freedom for them—a virtual walk in open air. Heard and Schlosberg refused to coat this wrenching spectacle in feel-good sentiment. Mindful of American reality, they discarded the opera’s happy ending and imposed a bleak coda, with a scrambled, dissonant collage of “Fidelio” music and other Beethoven snippets to match. It turns out that Leah has been asleep at her desk, dreaming of a rescue; Stan remains in prison. Some members of Heartbeat’s chorus of freedom will die behind bars.
-Alex Ross, The New Yorker
Bold and vivid. This small, adventurous company strives to make opera a visceral, intimate and immediate “encounter,” as they have said. Their alterations to masterpieces aim to get past dated elements that can mute the raw emotions and the timeless issues coursing within the original works. Excerpts from Act I — especially crucial scenes when we see the beer-swilling Pinkerton (the vibrant tenor Mackenzie Whitney) before his wedding and some melting strands of the love duet — are intriguingly presented as dreamlike recollections. The most affecting element was the presentation of their child, a silent character (played by Noah Spagnola). The devotion of the company to Puccini’s music was evident in the sensitive arrangement of the score for five strings and harp, a richly detailed yet delicate rendering that enhanced the drama’s intimacy.
-Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times
In a program note, Heartbeat’s young leaders express their desire “to birth productions that tackle urgent questions confronting our society today—questions of otherness, misogyny, cultural appropriation, and crossing borders both literal and metaphysical.” In an interview with the Times, however, the director, Ethan Heard, touched on another important point: “This opera is a masterpiece. We want to honor the beautiful writing and score, but inject some questioning into it, and bring people in closer proximity to it.” The first of these sentiments makes Heartbeat Opera’s production relevant. The second, however, makes it worthwhile. ...What’s so pleasing about Heartbeat Opera’s “Butterfly” is how well its artistic intentions dovetail with its limited means. The orchestra is cut down, but to an arrangement for harp and string quintet that recalls the mellifluous elegance of the original. The cast members are young but promising enough that you wouldn’t mind hearing them in a grander production and a bigger space.
-Russell Platt, The New Yorker
DIDO & AENEAS
A radical endeavor—less pint-sized grand opera than an appropriation of the genre for theatre of the black-box type. A cocktail party degenerates into surreal anarchy, with witches prancing about and the lovers copulating in a bathtub. ...Elegant, boisterous, and melancholy by turns. The scale of the show felt exactly right.
-Alex Ross, The New Yorker
A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC
In Act 2 of Berkshire Theatre Group’s stirring production of a A Little Night Music, Madame Armfeldt proposes a toast: “To life! And to the only other reality — death!’’ Ethan Heard’s Night Music has a certain emotional eloquence and a lovely dreamlike quality, but Madame Armfeldt’s “other reality’’ is there, too, thrumming beneath the surface. When Baldwin and Soo team up for “Every Day a Little Death,’’ it seems to expand to an existential lament, and you can hear a pin drop inside the Colonial Theatre.
Gripping drama...under the clearly inspired guidance of Heartbeat co-artistic director Ethan Heard. A feat of virtuosity. A flat-out triumph.
BELLS ARE RINGING
The production uncorks and sustains a fizzy energy. Heard’s affection for this material is palpable, and he draws deft performances from his cast.
LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS
Nominated for five Berkshire Theatre Awards: Musical Production, Direction, Choreography, Set Design, and Costume Design
Shrewd and revelatory. Utterly irresistible. Smart and appealing.
THE CAT AND THE CANARY
The actors are superb in this exceptional production, but the real stars of the evening are composer and sound designer Steven Brush and director Ethan Heard. Heard’s cinematic direction is right on. A daring production, with stunning visual and aural effects and one hell of a cast – what more could you ask for in a theatrical performance?