by Steven Pisano
Heartbeat Opera is one of a number of smaller opera companies seeking to maintain traditional opera as a vital force in the twenty-first century by reimagining works from the canon in edgy new ways that mirror the electric productions of contemporary operas put on by the likes of the Prototype Festival, Opera Philadelphia, and Nashville Opera. It is as if the folks at Heartbeat view Mozart, Donizetti, Beethoven, and so on, as being every bit on the current scene as David T. Little, Missy Mazzoli, Kevin Puts, and other contemporary opera-composing stars.
That can be a very exciting endeavor, producing traditional operas less as historical artifacts and more as essential works that still have meaningful relevance to today's binge-watching audiences. At the same time, for purists, it can be akin to heresy. Traditionalists are accustomed to turning a blind eye toward nips and tucks that trim bloated works from the past, but Heartbeat Opera goes further. Not simply content to apply window dressing to accommodate modern tastes and attention spans, they wrestle old operas onto the table, dissect them from the inside, then put all the parts back together in a way that sometimes stays true to the original and other times veers far astray. In many ways, the result is less an interpretation than a collaboration across time--the composers and librettists from two centuries ago paired with the theater artists of today.
As part of the 2018 New York OperaFest now playing through June all around town, Heartbeat Opera is presenting Mozart's Don Giovanni and Beethoven's Fidelio at the Baruch Performing Arts Center. Both productions feature stellar young casts in exciting, stripped-down productions that burn brightly both musically and theatrically.