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Photo by Christopher Ash

Out of Line: A Conversation with Ethan Heard of Heartbeat Opera

By Victoria Tripsas | September 20, 2016

The Out of Line series is inspired by the original Renegade Cabaret and designed to bring a downtown vibe to the park with unforgettable performances.

As the summer comes to a close, we invite visitors to join us for our final Out of Line performance of the season.

The series will go out with a bang on Thursday, September 22, as Heartbeat Opera performs opera like you’ve never seen it before. Prepare yourselves for an electrifying, ground-shaking performance so close that you can feel the vibrations on your skin. Did we mention the performers will be in drag?

Co-Artistic Director Ethan Heard gave us the scoop on the ensemble, and on what we can expect for their High Line debut.

Tell us a little bit about how Heartbeat Opera started.

We all met at Yale. The co-artistic director Louisa and I were at the School of Drama studying directing, and we took a fabulous class called Opera Practicum. We had so much fun exploring the extremes of what opera can be, and when we moved to New York City after graduation, we decided to found a company dedicated to this work. We started with two-week workshops of
Lucia Di Lammermoor and The Seven Deadly Sinsin May 2014. Since then, we’ve produced two drag extravaganzas and four major productions: Lucia Di Lammermoor, Dido & Aeneas, Daphnis & Chloé, and Kafka-Fragments.

What makes Heartbeat Opera’s performances different from traditional opera? How is Heartbeat Opera reflective of the opera scene in New York City right now?

Heartbeat makes visceral work in intimate spaces. We create radical adaptations and new orchestrations. For example, Dan’s orchestration of Lucia’s mad scene included electric guitar and a toy piano. We often revel in a queer aesthetic.

Since the demise of New York City Opera and Gotham Opera, there has been a surge of smaller, more nimble opera companies making work in non-traditional venues. Heartbeat is part of that wave. We believe opera is wonderful on a grand scale, but we make opera for audiences who want to feel the vibrations of the singers’ voices.

The Out of Line series provides a more up-close-and-personal experience for its audience. How does Heartbeat Opera engage and interact with attendees?

There is no fourth wall in a Heartbeat Opera performance. Singers dance through the audience, and instrumentalists move freely through the space. We want 21st-century audiences to enjoy opera’s contemporariness, its sexiness, and humor, so we have a lot of fun surprising our audiences and playing with their expectations.

How has Heartbeat Opera evolved over the years?

We’re always evolving! We’re always striving to make the best work possible and to grow our audience. Last season, we began partnering with A Broader Way, introducing high school girls to opera. We’re excited to keep nurturing our education and outreach activities. We’re also always questioning what makes Heartbeat special. For instance, we’ve become even more committed to bringing instrumentalists “out of the pit” and into the process.

What excites you most about performing on the High Line?

We get to be on New York’s longest runway! We’re so excited to bring some of the operatic canon’s greatest hits to the people for free, in such a beautiful outdoor setting. We’re experimenting with some unusual orchestrations, and we’re thrilled to be sponsored by MAC Cosmetics. Our performers are going to be dressed to impress!

Heartbeat Opera takes the stage (or scissor lift) this Thursday, September 22, at 9:00 PM on the High Line at West 14th Street.