NEW YORK — Inmates at six Midwest correctional facilities will perform in a New York production of Ludwig van Beethoven’s opera “Fidelio” without leaving prison.
The opera, which tells the story of a woman who disguises herself as a male prison guard to save her husband from a political prison, was first performed in 1805.
The story still felt contemporary to Heartbeat Opera director Ethan Heard, who adapted the story to focus on an African-American activist and his wife.
“I was just really struck by the story of Fidelio and the story of a wrongfully convicted person who is being rescued by his wife,” Heard said.
A key moment in the opera is the “Prisoners Chorus,” so Heard and musical director Daniel Schlosberg decided to work with actual prisoners.
“We want to make people of aware the state of the criminal justice system in American and give people a way into it as an art form,” Schlosberg said.
Schlosberg went to graduate school with a woman who conducts a prison chorus in Minnesota. She agreed to participate and put them in touch with several other prison choruses.
A musical journey
Heard and Schlosberg are traveling to four prisons in three states over the next few days for rehearsals. Two other choirs are practicing on their own.
Their first stop was Coralville, Iowa, on Tuesday, to work with the Oakdale Community Choir, which is made up of inmates at the Oakdale Prison and members of the community.
Then they drove to Ohio for practices at the London Correctional Institution and the Marion Correctional Institution. They’re driving to Kansas on Friday for more rehearsals.
“Being able to get the voices of prisoners out there and heard, in a good way, is something that is phenomenal, something that needs to be done, needs to be done more often,” Oakdale inmate Josh Lusch told CNN affiliate KWWL. “This is getting to a segment of the population that probably doesn’t think about it very often.”
Through the magic of technology…
All six choirs will record their parts next month and Schlosberg will weave them together into the finished song. They’re also shooting video of the practice, which will be shown on stage.
“It will be a huge live and recorded moment and then we’ll see the video of the prisoners,” Schlosberg said.
Heard said the inmates seemed really grateful for the experience and some were trying to get family and friends to go see it when it opens in New York in May.
“It’s been a really moving, exciting experience,” Heard said.