by Steven Pisano
Each fall, to kick off its season, the edgy Heartbeat Opera presents a combination drag and opera extravaganza, which also serves as a fundraiser. This year's production over the weekend at Roulette was called "Dragus Maximus: A Homersexual Opera Odyssey," directed by co-artistic director Ethan Heard and conceived with co-artistic director Louisa Proske.
Drae Campbell was Homer, who was the narrator for the evening. Peregrine Teng Heard (Ethan's sister) was the voiceover of Aphrodite, goddess of love, who guided and prodded Homer on his adventures encountering various mythological beings, each of whom sang an aria from an opera with some kind of connection to the action. Later in the show, Aphrodite was personified on stage by Wo Chan (also known as the drag performer Pearl Harbor).
John Taylor Ward, who starred in Heartbeat's production last year of Mozart's Don Giovanni, sang "Fra l'ombre e gl'orrori" from Handel's Aci, Galatea e Polifemo, dressed as the blinded Polyphemus. Dressed up as a life-sized house fly, Ward also paired with Jamilyn Manning-White, as Eurydice, in the "Fly Duet" from Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld.
Manning-White also was stunning while performing a new song not from the canon called "Feed the Snakes" written by musical director Daniel Schlosberg and Royce Vavrek, to accompany her turn as the serpent-headed Medusa, dressed in a magnificent wiry costume--one of many eye-popping creations from the costume/make-up/hair team of Fabian Aguilar, Jon Carter, Miodrag Guberinic, and Andrew Jordan.
Justin Mock performed triple duty as Cerberus, the three-headed dog; the Minotaur, dressed in pink and high heels dancing the "Can Can" from Offenbach; and Cupid, joyously leaping about the stage as he unloaded his quiver, one of his arrows striking the lovelorn and gender-fluid Homer.
Nicolette Mavroleon was commanding in the roles of Nerone (a female Nero, who stroked her violin in a way, uh, you may not have learned about in Classics class) and Sappho, describing to her Muse (Couden) the many pleasures of the isle of Lesbos.
The entire evening was a free-wheeling, fun-loving operatic romp, with tongue firmly in cheek but with beautiful music filling the air. It didn't hurt that they were also able to fill the coffers a little in preparation for the company's upcoming season, which includes a reimagined co-production (with Opera Lafayette) of the 300+ year old erotic oratorio La Susanna, written by composer Alessandro Stradella and librettist Giovanni Batttista Giardini, which will first present next April at the Kennedy Center and then follow the next month at BAM Fishman.
More photos can be found here.