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.

Friday, October 30, 2015


Kristin Gornstein

Last night we entered a room jam-packed with young people primed to enjoy opera under the most original circumstances.  The occasion was a benefit drag performance of Miss Handel, an evening of (mostly) Handel's music performed by artists who were not only vocally skilled but outrageously and winningly outfitted in period costumes. Sequins, feather boas, powdered wigs, beauty marks, and size 12 pumps were exhibited in abundance but never distracted from the fine musical values.

Heartbeat Opera, founded by Co-Directors Ethan Heard and Louisa Proske, is one of the small boutique opera companies that have been springing up lately, perhaps stimulated by the demise of New York City Opera. Last year we were completely won over by their highly original Daphnis et ChloƩ (review archived and available through the search bar).

Last night's extravaganza was wildly entertaining and drew a mostly young crowd. We wondered how many of them had not enjoyed opera before; we further wondered if Handel's music acquired some new fans from among the newbies. We tend to think so and applaud any and all attempts to cultivate a young audience.

As far as musical values, we found nothing to criticize. Co-Music Directors Jacob Ashworth and Daniel Schlosberg produced the lovely baroque sounds of violin and harpsichord, augmented by Hsuan-Fong Chen's oboe, Sarah Stone's cello, and Jude Ziliack's violin.

The superb singing was done by Kristin Gornstein, Lauren Worsham, Stanley Bahorek, Scott Mello, and John Taylor Ward. Ms. Gornstein is known to us through her work with Lachlan Glen's Schubertiade and Ms. Worsham through her performances with Steven Blier's New York Festival of Song. The male voices were new to us but everyone excelled in the baroque genre. It is astonishing how the artists could camp things up and strut around in drag while still maintaining vocal quality.

The gender bending mistresses of ceremony were Ato Blankson-Wood (new to us) and James Cusati-Moyer (whose performance last year as the devil in Stravinsky's Soldier's Tale blew us away). The pair introduced each number in oh-so-clever rhymed couplets written by dramaturge Antigoni Gaitana and Mr. Heard. The identically gowned ladies faced each other through a mirror frame and lip-synched "Myself I Shall Adore" from Handel's Semele. It was hilarious.

The other numbers were all sung and perhaps our favorite was "Iris, hence away" from Semele, sung by Ms. Gornstein. Not all arias were sung in English and we particularly enjoyed the one in Italian.

The only non-Handel number was the final duet from Bernstein's Candide, a particularly humorous example of the exchange of clothes and gender roles. It was deliciously raunchy.

Obviously a mountain of imagination was substituted for a molehill of a budget. The production was designed by Seth Bodie, Jon Carter, Reid Thompson, and Oliver Wason.

It is incredibly gratifying to see how much can be done with a small budget and how exciting it is to experience opera up close and personal. The skin tingles and, YES, the heart beats! What a perfect name for this company.

We heartily recommend this production if you can possibly snag a ticket for one of the two remaining shows tonight.

(c) meche kroop

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