Fidelio gets remade in US jails

Fidelio gets remade in US jails


norman lebrecht

March 25, 2018

Ethan Heard of Heartbeat Opera has been working with inmates in six Midwest jails to bring an adaptation of Beethoven’s opera to audiences around the country.

Watch an all-too brief CNN report here.



  • Sharon Beth Long says:

    In New York State it is common to show and sell for the prisoners prisoners’ art work in various public exhibitions such as in the government office buildings. I have also seen a You Tube video of prisoners’ line dance in the Phillipines.
    However, at one time I was an intern in the NYS correctional system and I have never heard of a choir or even a prisoner singing program except as part of an internal talent show.
    Just yesterday I saw a flyer/postcard for this production but put it aside because normally I am lukewarm at best about modernizing classical pieces to make current political statements. However, if I could make the time I would now give this production a try.
    For those who are interested it will be showing in New York City in reperatory with Don Giovanni the weekends, and maybe some weekdays of May 4 through May 13 at the auditorium of Baruch College (that’s a New York State college, not a Jewish college) on Lexington and 25th Street. Heartbeat Opera is an outside group using the auditorium; this is not a college production.

  • John Borstlap says:

    It is rather ironic to let real prisoners sing the Fidelio chorus without sharing the happy ending of the opera.

    There are also prisons where the inmates make themselves useful by producing mouse traps in the form of little cages which keep the animal alive but firmly locked-up.

    Are such programmes naive or subliminally sadistic? I think it is interesting material for social anthropologists.

    • Petros Linardos says:

      I agree. At first glance, it is very ironic to have prisoners sing Fidelio, assuming they ‘ve been rightufully convicted.

      Yet performing arts can definitely have their place in prisons.

      Here is a podcast about a director’s experience of a group of inmates at a high-security prison as they rehearsed and staged a production of the last act—Act V—of Hamlet. Arguably a better fit for the prisoners than Fidelio.

  • Robert Holmén says:

    You think they will be driven to hysteria by a story about someone who was wrongly convicted. Every other inmate they meet in prison says he’s innocent. They’ve heard it before. They can process the irony.

    The real problem I see here is that some crank is going to watch this report, see that they have a moment in their lives that is not like the gang warfare in cable TV prison dramas and demand that it be taken away.

    Things like this are rare in prisons not because wardens don’t see a place for them but because of political disapproval.

    • buxtehude says:

      Too true

    • Sharon says:

      I agree. Like immigrants prisoners are easy to kick for those who are resentful about other issues.
      Incidentally I read somewhere that experts believe that about five percent of prisoners are truly innocent. That’s not a trivial number. Also many others, especially young people, get unwittingly caught up in roundups because everyone who is with the person committing the crime is guilty. I am trying to help someone like this now.
      As far as the Fidelio choir is concerned, I am reminded of the poem “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”