NORTHAMPTON – SmithArts and the Offices of the Provost and Alumnae Relations are pleased to present a special screening of Heartbeat Opera’s Breathing Free, a visual album set to the music of Beethoven’s Fidelio, newly arranged Negro Spirituals, and songs by Black composers and lyricists on Thursday, April 29 at 7 pm. The virtual film screening will be followed by a panel discussion Breathing Free: Art, Protest, and Radical Love with Smith and Five College faculty in conversation with the filmmaker, Anaiis Cisco, Assistant Professor of Film and Media Studies. The event is free and registration is required. https://smithbreathingfree.eventbrite.com
Created against the backdrop of a worldwide racial reckoning, a pandemic ravaging America’s prison population, and the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth the production celebrates Black artistry to convey a dream of justice, equity ... and breathing free. Produced by Heartbeat Opera, the film features intimate performances by six African American soloists and dancers beautifully shot on location during the pandemic. LA Dance Chronicle calls it an “intense work of shimmering beauty….. Gloriously moving and exquisitely produced, Heartbeat Opera has created theater to last the ages. Justice and equality are hard to come by but Breathing Free allows us to wonder if it’s possible.”
In 2018, Heartbeat premiered “Fidelio,” which re-imagined Beethoven’s opera of political persecution, love, and sacrifice in a contemporary American prison with a woman attempting to rescue her wrongfully incarcerated husband, a Black Lives Matter activist. When a planned 2020 restaging of the piece was canceled due to the pandemic, Heartbeat decided to use the pause to adapt the work as a response to the racial upheaval of the past year. In the program notes, Ras Dia, the Creative Producer describes the project as “an articulation of Blackness and humanity. Breathing Free is a reckoning and a grace in the midst of the health and racial crises of 2020.”
Breathing Free (a nominee for the 2021 Drama League Award for Outstanding Digital Concert Production) weaves opera, dance, and film to connect four excerpts from Fidelio with new arrangements of traditional spirituals and art songs by black composers and lyricists Harry T. Burleigh, Florence Price, Langston Hughes, Anthony Davis, and Thulani Davis. The themes of justice, hope, protest, rage, grief, and love are stunningly interpreted by filmmaker Anaiis Cisco who shot the film in 5 production days in 20 locations across Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York. “I knew I wanted this performance to offer a cinematic experience, fusing operatic and cinematic styles. In my attempt to subvert conventions of classical arts, I hoped to create a cohesive cinematic landscape linking all performers through time, space, and genre.”
Called "bracing, compelling, and heartbreaking. An artwork that strikes a resonant chord for these hard times.” by Musical America, Breathing Free suggests that the classical arts have an important role to play in centering Black dignity and artistry. “Breathing Free is our protest. It is the imperfect and often painful work of taking anti-racist action.” Says Ethan Heard, Heartbeat’s Artistic Director “It is our artistic fight for survival. And it is an offering — a gift — for the audience. We share this virtual experiment with love and with hope that people will find inspiration in these songs and this film.”
Smith’s screening of the 45-minute film will be followed by a live, virtual panel discussion, Breathing Free: Art, Protest and Radical Love, with filmmaker Anaiis Cisco, Asst. Professor of Film & Media Studies who will be joined by Shakia Barron, Five College Dance Lecturer and fellow Smith faculty members Andrea Moore, Asst. Professor of Music, Jennifer DeClue, Asst. Professor of Women & Gender Studies, Sam Ng, Asst. Professor of Africana Studies. The discussion will be moderated by Daphne Lamothe, Professor of Africana Studies at Smith. Registration is required for the free event at https://smithbreathingfree.eventbrite.com.