Ethan Heard (’07, YSD ’13) on Getting Our Hearts to Beat for Opera in the Twenty-First Century

Philip Lang (’09) and David Walker (‘11), co-founders of TripleMint.

"​We founded Heartbeat Opera to create radical adaptations of classic operas in intimate venues...

In the past four years, we have performed all over NYC -- including on

the High Line -- for thousands of opera lovers and opera "virgins" alike."

Ethan Heard is stage director, artistic director, and teacher. In addition to co-founding Heartbeat Opera with fellow Yalie Louisa Proske (YSD '12), Ethan is on faculty at the Yale School of Drama, the Yale Institute of Sacred Music, and Princeton's Lewis Center for the Arts. We asked Ethan to tell us about his experience creating art, specifically opera, that matters in the now.

How did you get started?

​I was a strong boy soprano and started performing professionally quite young. I tried directing for the first time senior year of high school. I loved getting my hands on all aspects of the production. In college, I was directing, producing, and performing. Soon after graduating from college though, I realized directing/producing allowed me to channel more of my strengths than performing did. I love dreaming up theatrical projects and bringing together teams of collaborators to make them real!

Were you involved in the arts scene at Yale?

​Absolutely. I majored in Theater Studies and performed/directed with the Dramat, Gilbert & Sullivan Society​, and Opera Theater of Yale College. I sang in the Duke's Men and Whiffenpoofs. After graduating from college, I came back to direct Yale Baroque Opera Project's first two productions.

​What current projects are you working on?​

I'm directing and adapting Heartbeat Opera's Spring Festival production of Beethoven's FIDELIO, running in repertory with Mozart's DON GIOVANNI at Baruch Performing Arts Center, May 2-13.​ (Tickets here!) More than ten Yalies are directing, conducting, performing, designing, and managing these shows!

Our FIDELIO is a contemporary American version that looks inside our criminal justice system. A black activist is wrongfully incarcerated. His wife, Leah, disguises herself to infiltrate the system and free him. Six prison choirs in Iowa, Ohio, Minnesota, and Kansas are collaborating with us by recording the famous "Prisoners' Chorus." My music director Daniel Schlosberg (YC '10, YSM MM '13, MMA '14, DMA '18) and I recently got back from visiting four of them. It was an amazing experience which reminded us of the power of music and storytelling to heal, to uplift, and to bring people together. Here is a story CNN did about our project.

How did this current project come about?

​Louisa Proske (YSD '12) and I co-founded Heartbeat Opera to create radical adaptations of classic operas in intimate venues. Our Co-Music Directors, Jacob Ashworth (YSM MM '13, MMA '14, DMA '18) and Daniel Schlosberg, and Producing Director, Jennifer Newman (YSD '11), are equally passionate about bringing opera into the 21st century and reaching younger audiences. In the past four years, we have performed all over NYC -- including on the High Line -- for thousands of opera lovers and opera "virgins" alike. Our productions have been celebrated as as “bold and vivid” by The New York Times, “relevant and worthwhile” by The New Yorker, and “gripping” and “dazzling” by Opera News. ​

If you could perform or have your work displayed in any venue, which would it be?

​We're thrilled to be back at Baruch Performing Arts Center, where our productions of Puccini's BUTTERFLY and Bizet's CARMEN thrived last season. Right now we make intimate productions, but in the future, it would be fun to do something grand in the Park Avenue Armory. ​

If you could meet one artist/author, alive or dead, who would it be?

​ Oscar Wilde.​

What is your favorite show right now?

​I loved DEAR EVAN HANSEN. But I haven't seen ANGELS IN AMERICA yet...​

How does NYC affect your work?

​NYC provides magical opportunities for artists to cross pollinate and create. Resources like time and space are usually scarce, but the energy, tenacity, and ambition here are one-of-a-kind. ​

What's your best advice for recent grads?

​Explore the offerings at BAM!

For more information on Heartbeat Opera, and the not one, not two, but FIVE Yalies who run it, be sure to check out their website!

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