Heartbeat Opera takes a 400-year-old art form out of its box — 6-inch heels required.
The Halloween drag productions outfitting Heartbeat Opera‘s catalog represent a moment for free-range creation. Pushing at the boundaries of the art form, these intimate performances complement the New York-based company’s full-length works, spinning together a world of classical music and drag to tease out the inherently queer qualities of opera.
“Opera is incredibly queer to start with,” John Taylor Ward, a performer with the company, said. “I’m a Baroque specialist, and in those operas, it’s a very fluid environment. So I would actually say that it lends itself pretty naturally to drag.”
Placed in conversation, the commonalities between the two art forms further emerge — such as the ability to negotiate between “control then mania” and turn “on a dime to express pure joy and then pure pain,” performer Wo Chan (a.k.a. Pearl Harbor) explained. “Those are the basic elements of drag.”
Ethan Heard, co-artistic director of Heartbeat Opera said the Halloween performances began as an experiment to see what would happen if they mixed classical opera with “avant-garde Brooklyn” drag.
“Opera singers are larger than life — they create these superhuman sounds,” Heard said. “And drag performers are larger than life. So there’s really a lot of shared artistry between the two.”
Last year, Heartbeat presented “Dragus Maxiumus,” a lush take on Greco-Roman mythology featuring the musical stylings of Monteverdi, Handel and Offenbach. Outfitted in extravagant costumes, the work blended the stories of Homer, Medusa, Polyphemus and others with music that spanned centuries.
“It’s really about taking these beautiful works down off their pedestal,” Heard said, “[and] showing that something can be sublimely beautiful, but also mischievous and fun.”
Heartbeat’s “Dragus Maxiumus” is the focus of the premiere episode of the new ALL ARTS digital series, “Box Burners.” Hear more from the company’s cast and creative team in the video streaming above and on the ALL ARTS app, YouTube and Facebook page.
Top Image: Heartbeat Opera's "Dragus Maxiumus." Photo: Andrew Boyle.