Eric Fraad is known on both sides of the Atlantic as a highly imaginative, provocative opera and theatre director. Dynamic creativity, thrilling new perspectives, alongside meticulously researched knowledge of his subject characterise his productions.
A native of New York City, Eric Fraad is known on both sides of the Atlantic as a director of opera and theatre. His signature is the creation of a body of original works based on classical texts and subjects that defy formal definitions and create a new synthesis between opera, music, drama and dance. He is also recognized as an innovative artistic director, producer and cultural entrepreneur having founded and led ground-breaking arts organizations in Europe and America.
Fraad is the founder and CEO of Heresy Records an innovative record label that specializes in early music, traditional and world music, contemporary music and experimental crossovers between classical and popular genres. Heresy is distributed and promoted around the world by the Naxos Group of Companies (www.heresyrecords.com).
As co-Artistic Director of eX, the Irish-based early music performance company, he has conceived, directed and produced critically acclaimed works for the stage. including: Possessed (2012 and 2010), commissioned by The Galway Early Music Festival, a work exploring diverse cultural and psychological manifestations of trance and possesion which toured Ireland to great critical acclaim in 2012, The Irish tour of Shipwrecked culminating at the Belfast Festival at Queens (2011), Christ Lag in Todesbanden, a provocative staging of Bach’s first cantata and the sources that inspired it, at the Regensburg Early Music Festival in June 2011. Toccata Magazine called the production “a sensation” and “a brilliant transformation of sight and sound”, Shipwrecked (2009), a renaissance cabaret oratorio based on the adventures of a shipwrecked captain from the Spanish Armada that was cited by Playbill Arts as “Something akin to perfection”, Motion of the Heart (2009), an English masque that celebrated the virtues of the human heart, Songs from a Gothic Room (2009), featuring music of the Ars Nova and Ars Subtilior with the renowned medievalist Pedro Memelsdorff, The Rape of the Lock, a baroque spectacle combining a staging of Alexander Pope’s poem interpolated with Handel duets with music director Christopher Hogwood, BAROCK, a staging of early German baroque cantatas with Konrad Junghänel and Ex Tenebris (2006), a dance theatre dream work set to Christmas music of the middle ages and the renaissance choreographed by Liz Roche.
Recent activity apart from eX includes directing the Irish traditional music group Dúlra’s staged concert, Ecstasy for tours of Ireland and Croatia and directing Reliquiae Romanae, a fully staged production of early Italian baroque cantatas based on iconic religious and mythic heroines at the Southbank in London.
He studied philosophy and music composition at Bard College, Eastman School of Music and the University of the Pacific and holds an MBA from Columbia Business School (Columbia University).
Fraad was awarded two consecutive grants from the National Opera Institute (National Endowment for the Arts) for Stage Direction and spent two years at the English National Opera assisting the Director of Productions, Colin Graham. He has also worked at the Old Vic, Opéra National de Belgique and Opera North (Leeds).
In the United States he has worked on the directing staff of San Francisco Opera, San Diego Opera, Santa Fe Opera, Central City Opera and Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.
Productions of Puccini’s Tosca at Los Angeles Opera and Verdi’s Rigoletto at Pennsylvania Opera Theatre received major international attention and established his reputation as a director intent on experimenting with form and devising bold new interpretations of the classics.
In 1984 he founded Opera at the Academy at the New York Academy of Art in New York. Together with Associate Director Christopher Alden and his brother David, Fraad built what was to become the most experimental, exciting and critically acclaimed opera organization in New York of the 1980’s and early 1990’s. During these years he was a protégé of the American impresario Joseph Papp, directing and producing numerous operas in association with The Public Theater. Andy Warhol filmed his production of The Magic Flute and subsequently broadcast it on MTV. Along with producing full-scale operas, Opera at the Academy featured a year-round training institute whose faculty included luminaries from the worlds of opera and theatre.
In 1993 he founded Millennial Arts Productions for which he was Artistic Director. Millennial Arts located at the City Center theatre in New York, was established to create spectacle that reflected the emerging trends that were transforming society at the turn of the millennium. The company produced works for Broadway, off Broadway, film and large-scale productions of his theatre works. His staging of Handel’s Messiah with costumes by Hussein Chalayan created a stir in New York and at the Utrecht Early Music Festival (2000). Esther (1998) praised by New York Magazine as, “a miraculous marriage of Handel and Racine” featured the debut of counter tenor Bejun Mehta.
Other creations all performed in New York include, Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater (1999) and Carissimi’s Jeptha (1998) both with Derek Lee Ragin, Stravinsky’s Pulcinella (1997), Bach’s cantata, Ein Feste Burg ist Unser Gott (1996), and The Rubbayat of Omar Khayyam (1995).
Between 2001 and 2004 Fraad served as Director of The Ark in Dublin, Europe’s only major cultural centre for young audiences and families. His cutting edge theatre productions for The Ark toured the country and won several awards and nominations including one for Best Production at the Irish Times Irish Theatre Awards for his staging of Jocelyn Clarke’s adaptation of Neil Gaiman and Dave McKeane’s graphic novella The Day I Swapped My Dad for 2 Goldfish. At The Ark he commissioned and directed several new works for the stage including plays with Booker Prize winners John Banville and Roddy Doyle.
From 2004 until 2006 he lived in Paris and New York and resumed working with Millennial Arts Productions. He was Artistic Advisor for the company’s full-length film, Finding Eleazar, as well as playing a contentious video director in the film. Finding Eleazar is about the tenor Nieil Schicoff and his journey to create the role of Eleazar in Halevy’s opera, La Juive at the Met, Paris Opera and the Vienna State Opera. It was an official selection at the Tribeca, Savannah, Montreal and Haifa Film Festivals and was released theatrically in New York.
SHIPWRECKED (eX Production, Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin)
“…something akin to perfection”
Jens F. Laurson, Playbill Arts, Oct 2009
Michael Dervan, Irish Times, Oct 2009
SHIPWRECKED (eX Production, Belfast Festival, Belfast)
“The Ulster Bank Belfast Festival at Queen's audience went wild at the finish and wouldn't stop clapping and cheering until the last song was performed all over again, with added improvisation...”
Angeline/Remco Adams/van Straten, Culture Northern Ireland Review, Oct 2011
CHRIST LAG IN TODESBANDEN (eX Production, Tage Alter Musik Regensburg, Germany)
"Eric Fraad, [... ...] who is esteemed for both his fertile imagination and provocative works as well as for his scrupulous research on a given subject, dynamic creativity and surprising new perspectives."
“…a brilliant transformation in „Sound and Image“.”
Robert Strobl, Tocatta, June 2011
POSSESSED (eX Production, Irish Tour, Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin)
“Ensemble eX’s Possessed was a tour de force - instrumental and vocal brilliance combined with dance and theatre to extra-ordinary effect.”
The Works, RTÉ TV, June 2012
MESSIAH (Holland Early Music Festival, Utrecht)
A visual electroshock straight through the proud, strong and generous music of Handel. A merciless confrontation with hidden emotions… Fraad’s images are penetrating – hence, rough and cruel, but also poetic and sometimes hilarious – and they work on all levels.
Joke Dame, Utrecht Nieusblad
The house was packed and the crowd was ecstatic.
The analogy between the kingdom of peace and harmony as predicted in the bible and the mental stability as a result of the healing of a psychiatric patient was powerful!
ESTHER (Millennial Arts Productions, Angel Orensanz Foundation, New York, NY)
The midwives who made it possible are director Eric Fraad, a Joseph Papp protégé,
and Bradley Brookshire a leading light of New York’s original-instrument scene…
Esther is a miraculous merging of Handel and Racine. Don’t ask me how, but the whole crazy thing works…. Faint-hearted performers would be disastrous in this mannerist exercise, but the cast, responding to Fraad’s urgent direction, went right to the core of their characters while communicating the tragic kernel of the story.
Peter G. Davis, New York Magazine
Director Eric Fraad is so in love with historical research that he made it the basis of his Esther, which intertwined Handel’s first oratorio with Racine’s great drama. In one of the most effective scenes, the mordantly pious Mordecai (sung by countertenor Bejun Mehta) invokes Jehovah in a passionate plea. To illustrate God’s presence at that moment, the altar suddenly lit up with blinding brilliance, its architectural features (Star of David, Torah ark, etc.) outlined with bulbs normally found on Hollywood stars’ dressing-room mirrors — a great coup de théâtre.
Robert Hilferty, Opera News
With the text and the music cut and re-organized by Mr. Fraad…the two hour performance is not at all unwieldy, but rather an engaging leap into a baroque telling of the story from the book of Esther. Most intriguing was the way different forms of expression combined to convey the story. Handel gives its basics: Haman, lieutenant of King Ahaseurus of Persia, has persuaded the king to have all the Jews murdered; Mordecai persuades his “daughter” Esther, the queen, to go un-summoned to her husband and beg for the life of her people. Mr. Fraad wisely included both versions of Esther’s reaction to Mordecai’s charge. Flo Cabre-Andrews, the French-born actress playing Esther, explosively delivered Racine’s prayer for divine aid in the original French; when soprano Indira Mahajan got her chance, with Handel’s “Tears assist me” her operatic delivery presented a more mature, but equally concentrated moment of emotion within the same stylized framework of declamation. I wouldn’t have missed either.
Heidi Waleson, The Wall Street Journal
DUBLIN 1742 (The Ark, Dublin)
Director Eric Fraad, better known for innovative work in opera and music theatre, particularly as a founder of Opera at the Academy in New York in the 1980’s. He begins his production of Dublin 1742, not on the stage, but in one of the upper floor workshop rooms of The Ark. Here we encounter each character from the play, individually, alone in a small, box-like cubicle, oblivious to the gawking crowds and locked obsessively, repetitively, in some deeply personal gestic movement detached from any narrative context.
Watching characters as pure spectacle is unsettling. Indeed, one of this production’s most memorable images is of Jonathan Swift stumbling around in his word-daubed cell in the final stages of dementia, looking endlessly at the lost page of a manuscript. In a sense, Dublin 1742 as a whole was a deconstruction of theatrical form. It began with pure spectacle; it became pure exposition in its second movement; then, having dispatched the business of exposition, re-integrated image and narrative. I expect that the impact of Dublin 1742 was less from its accomplished pastiche or its mediations on the artist in society than from the energy of its formal explorations. It is clear from this production that Fraad is interested in theatrical form per se, in a manner that augurs well for the future of The Ark.
Chris Morash, Irish Theatre Magazine
It is produced to the highest standards of acting, direction, costumes, set design and other stage values. Always a delight to the eye and ear, it spares no effort to recreate period details, a meticulous exercise in revisiting the past.
Gerry Colgan, The Irish Times
Ambitious, intelligent and immediate, The Ark’s new production is an exhibition/performance offering a fascinating glimpse of Georgian Dublin through the eyes of social-climbing actress and memoirist of the time. Cleverly site-specific and historically informed, John Banville’s play blows the cobwebs from the cultural outpost of the empire to reveal George Handel ironing out the kinks in his oratorio, Messiah while Jonathan Swift suffers bouts of hallucination and dementia in the Deanery of St Patrick’s.
Heresy Records Discography
The Transcendentalist by Ivan Ilic
Sleepsongs by Caitríona O'Leary and Dúlra
SLEEPSONGS is an album of Suantraí – ancient Irish lullabies and songs on the theme of sleep. Suantraí along with Geantraí (songs of joy and happiness) and Goltraí (laments) comprise the three strands of traditional song in Irish mythology. This album completes Caitríona O’Leary & Dúlra’s trilogy of albums based on this repertory. I am Stretched on Your Grave, an album of Irish laments (Goltraí), was released in 2001 by BMG Deutsche Harmonia Mundi and Ecstasy, an album of Irish songs of Joy and rapture (Geantraí), which was released in 2012 by Heresy/Naxos.
Possessed by eX Ensemble
Internationally acclaimed early music ensemble eX presents Possessed, a musical journey through the mysterious world of possession. Featuring medieval, renaissance, baroque and traditional music, Possessed explores Christian ecstatic trance as experienced by Hildegaard von Bingen, Teresa of Avila and Joan of Arc, demonic possession of the Salem witches, initiation rites of the Afro-Brazilian Condomblé and a musical exorcism performed to the wild rhythms of the Tarantella.
"Not for the pure of heart. eX's Possessed is a tour de force of instrumental and vocal brilliance..."
Laurence Vittes, Huffington Post
"The music was of the highest international standard with beautiful singing and most infectious instrumental playing...early music of this sort has such a strong immediate appeal and eX is the only Irish-based group to present it - and to such a very high standard."
Tim Thurston, Lyric fm
"The singing and instrumental playing are very fine and the whole of Possessed has a certain infectiously endearing quality"
An anthology of electroacoustic music from Ireland.
'Irish electro-acoustic music has developed from the academic pursuit of pointy/beardy types into something that lives, breathes and makes sense. These are clever, cogent dispatches from the fringes'
Tony Clayton-Lea, The Irish Times
'a wide-ranging and intelligent overview of outsider electronic music in Ireland'
Ian Maleney, The Quietus
'Album of the Month'
The Contemporary Music Centre, Ireland
'This album is a wake-up call for the sense...An exciting instrumental music project that combines experimental coolness with lovely Irish folk harmonies.'
Winifried Dulisch, AUDIO magazine
Dublin Drag Orchestra
One Minute to Midnight, New Year's Eve 1912
Available as limited edition 7" vinyl, or digital download
'Musical standards are high, their programming ingenious and their photos are terrific'
Warwick Thompson, Metro London