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Urgent, powerful, and poignant. I nearly missed Heartbeat Opera’s Fidelio, and I’m so glad I didn’t. The production, staged smartly, deftly navigated the tricky art of adaptation with new English-language dialogue”

– Joshua Barone, The New York Times
Best Classical Music Moments of the Week

Fidelio tells the story of a Black activist who 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 and new English dialogue, this daring, 90-minute adaptation pits corruption against courage, hate against hope. 

Heartbeat Opera introduced its landmark production of Fidelio at its 2018 Spring Festival. Directed by Ethan Heard, the company’s co-artistic director and co-founder, and using an arrangement of the score prepared and conducted by Daniel Schlosberg, the company’s co-music director, this adaptation of Beethoven’s sole opera embodies Heartbeat’s core values of visionary collaboration and creative interrogation of familiar repertoire in order to engage with contemporary social experience. 

Director’s Note  

“We are all implicated when we allow other people to be mistreated. An absence of compassion can corrupt the decency of a community, a state, a nation. Fear and anger can make us vindictive and abusive, unjust and unfair, until we all suffer from the absence of mercy and we condemn ourselves as much as we victimize others. The closer we get to mass incarceration and extreme levels of punishment, the more I believe it’s necessary to recognize that we all need mercy, we all need justice, and—perhaps—we all need some measure of unmerited grace.” — Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy 

 Carved in stone above the entrance to the London Correctional Institution in Ohio are the words, “He who enters here leaves not hope behind.” Inside, on Tuesday mornings, the Ubuntu Men’s Chorus rehearses. One of the singers has a portrait of Bach tattooed on his forearm. At the invitation of the choir’s conductor, Cathy Roma, Dan and I visited rehearsal on March 21, 2018. The Ubuntu Men’s Chorus is one of six prison choirs that are participating in this production. Overall, more than 100 “inside” (incarcerated) singers and 80 “outside” singers (volunteers who visit the prisons) are raising their voices with us.  

Fidelio is about hope in the face of despair. In our adaptation, Leah’s husband Stan, a Black Lives Matter activist, has been wrongfully incarcerated by a corrupt warden, but she still fiercely hopes she can free him. It is about courage in the face of danger (Leah disguises herself as a correctional officer to infiltrate the facility where she believes Stan is being kept) and love in the face of hate (despite the warden’s racism, love is Leah’s inspiration).  

We live in a time of great injustice. Violence against Black bodies is an ongoing epidemic plaguing our society, and our prison system incarcerates many, many more people than it should. Did you know that the United States has 5% of the world’s population and 25% of its prisoners? The state of California alone has more prisoners than do France, the United Kingdom, Germany, Japan, Singapore, and the Netherlands combined. Shockingly, one in every three Black male babies born in the United States in this century is expected to be incarcerated. 

 In the midst of great pain, Beethoven’s music has the power to connect and uplift our spirits. Fidelio expresses the yearning for freedom and redemption in us all. Experiencing this music and this story nourishes and strengthens us in these dark times, reminding us of the beauty we, as human beings, are capable of.  

In the Ubuntu Chorus rehearsal, Dan accompanied on keyboard and I filmed. New T-shirts with the chorus logo had arrived, and the singers excitedly put them on over their uniforms. But after I explained in more detail how the footage I was shooting would be used in the production, one singer nicknamed Frederick Douglass, presumably for his white hair and noble profile, raised his hand, saying, “We should take off our T-shirts. We’ve got to represent all men in blue.”  

This production is dedicated to the men and women behind bars for whom we are responsible, and for the activists who hope, leading us in the fight for justice.  

Komm, Hoffnung,
Lass den letzten Stern, der Muden nicht erbleinchen!
O komm, erhell’mein Ziel, sei’s noch so fern,
Liebe, sie wird’s erreichen.  

Come, Hope,
do not dim the last star of the weary!
Light my goal: however far it may be
Love will reach it. 

— translation by Nicholas Betson 

— Ethan Heard, Heartbeat Opera Artistic Director & Co-Founder  

Sources: Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson, The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, Locked In: The True Causes of Mass Incarceration and How to Achieve Real Reform by John F. Pfaff, Let’s Get Free by Paul Butler 


Letter’s from the Prisoner’s Chorus

A collection of letters shared by the production team from Heartbeat Opera from the incarcerated members of the “Prisoner’s Chorus” are available to be read here: Letters from the Prisoner’s Chorus

 

location

Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts | Virginia G. Piper Theater
7380 E 2nd St
Scottsdale, AZ 85251

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media

Virtual Artist Talk

Production Overview

 

Interview, “Prisoners Chorus”

 

Letter’s from the Prisoner’s Chorus

A collection of letters shared by the production team from Heartbeat Opera from the incarcerated members of the “Prisoner’s Chorus” are available to be read here: Letters from the Prisoner’s Chorus