Prison inmates raise their voices through Opera production - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Prison inmates raise their voices through Opera production

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Some Iowa prison inmates will get a chance to raise their voices through music -- but for an audience 1,000 miles away, as part of a New York City opera production.

At the Iowa Medical and Classification Center, otherwise known as the Oakdale Prison, in Coralville, they have what's called the Oakdale Community Choir where inmates and community members can come together to sing. Inmate Josh Lusch has been singing with the choir nearly the whole time since it was created in 2009.

"Through the choir, I've become a person who takes on responsibility, which I never saw myself doing. It's helped me grow as a person immensely," he said.

On Tuesday night inside the prison's gym, Lusch and the other inmates rehearsed for what will be their biggest gig yet. Soon, their voices will be recorded for an opera production of Beethoven's Fidelio.

The opera takes place in a prison and Heartbeat Opera, out of New York City, will take a unique spin on the tale. Instead, it features a black activist that is wrongfully incarcerated.

Heartbeat Opera Directors, Daniel Schlosberg and Ethan Heard, visited the prison on Tuesday for a rehearsal after reaching to prison choirs to be apart of the production.

"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. He said the opera will touch on issues involving mass incarceration. 

During the rehearsal, they filmed the choir to be played in the show. A final recording of the singing will be done on April 17. The choir will be singing a portion of the opera's "Prisoner’s Chorus."

It's a performance that Lusch said he's excited to be a part of.

"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. This is getting to a segment of the population that probably doesn't think about often," he said.

Choir director and founder, Mary Cohen, said the choir is all about changing public perceptions. 

"It can really change attitudes. It allows people to have a much broader perception of people in prison because we get to see people singing, singing together," she said. Cohen is also an associate professor and head of music education at the University of Iowa.

Both participants and opera leaders hope the production can expose more people to a life inside a prison.

"We are people who have made mistakes, in the past, and a lot of us are trying to fix them, correct them, make ourselves better people overall and this choir is a huge stepping stone to getting that started in prison," Lusch said.

More about the opera production can be found on Heartbeat Opera's website.

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