We are here to encourage the development of gifted young singers and to stimulate the growth of New York City's invaluable chamber opera companies. But we will not neglect the Metropolitan Opera either. Get ready for bouquets and brickbats.

Saturday, November 2, 2019


Curtain Call for Heartbeat Opera's Halloween Extravaganza at Roulette

We have been a fan of Heartbeat Opera since they first started producing opera. We were immediately bowled over by their Daphnis et Chloé, taking Offenbach's silly but bawdy story and telling it in the most creative way. Casting it with fine young voices and creating costuming and sets with far more imagination than expenditure, the work was an immediate hit and won our heart.

Since then, we have watched Heartbeat grow to become a full-fledged opera company producing one hit after another--most often presenting operas with an original take that sometimes thrilled us and sometimes upset us--but always left us feeling involved. Their productions have always been radical, original, and adventuresome; their audience is mainly young. We decided that there must have been something special in the water at Yale School of Drama, where Co-Artistic Directors Louisa Proske and Ethan Heard got their training.

Since we loved theater long before we got interested in opera, we always look at opera productions with an eye for dramatic validity and also for entertainment value. For us, it doesn't matter how famous the stars, how gorgeous the voices, or how well conducted the orchestra is; if the show doesn't work dramatically it doesn't hold our interest.

We are filled with anticipation for their December production of Weber's Der Freischutz, but until then we had our yen for Heartbeat-style entertainment well satisfied by their stunning Halloween show at The Roulette. Using the vital and worthwhile theme of Saving Mother Earth, there was plenty of eye and ear candy to make the bitter pill easier to swallow.

The "plot" followed the line of facing the peril to our planet and reforming ourselves. The theme involved trees ("Ombra mai fu" from Händel's Serse), flowers (the "Flower Duet" from Delibes' Lakme), melting icebergs ("Gelida in ogni vena" from Vivaldi's Farnace), birds ("The Lark Ascending" by Vaughan Williams), global warming ("Too Darn Hot" from Cole Porter's Kiss Me Kate), nuclear peril (John Adams' Dr. Atomic), and so on, right up to the finale of "Make Our Garden Grow" from Bernstein's Candide. Even Stravinsky, Mozart, and Wagner were on board. The cleverness with which the music was pressed into the service of the theme of the show was outstanding.

All the voices were admirable but we were particularly taken with the coloratura of Ariana Wehr who was dressed as a polar bear but still managed to take Vivaldi's vocal lines seriously with admirable ease of fioritura. The always effective John Taylor Ward did double duty as a plant and as the Monster of Climate Collapse.

Patrick Kilbride was covered with flowers and Dustin Ceithamer appeared as Mother Earth.  There was quite a face-off between "her" and the Monster. Clinton Edward and Brendan Henderson danced their way through their roles as birds, choreographed by Eamon Foley.

Words fail us in describing Miodrag Guberinic's elaborate and inventive costumes; we suggest that you see the photos we have posted to our FB page--Voce di Meche where you can also see Maiko Ando's fabulous makeup.

Even the musicians wore wigs and makeup. Musical Direction was by Jacob Ashworth (violin) and Daniel Schlosberg (piano and harpsichord) joined by violist Hannah Levinson and cellist Madeline Fayette. Onstage for the jazzy numbers was saxophonist Michaël Attias.

Props, like the suspended globe, were designed by Corinne Gologursky and Nicholas Hussong provided the projections, mainly quotes from famous people with serious messages consistent with the theme.

Also consistent with the theme was the provision of metal straws with the drinks for guests to take home. We have been using ours!

Significantly, a portion of the ticket proceeds went toward supporting Earthjustice. Heartbeat Opera is known for their socially oriented productions, such as their work with the incarcerated for their production of Beethoven's Fidelio.

This is the kind of work we would be happy to see again; however, like last year's Halloween show, part of the value comes from the knowledge that it is transitory in nature--very much ""of the moment"-- and can be cherished the way one cherishes a flower. The plant which produced the flower, however, is a perennial!

© meche kroop

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