Missy Mazzoli and Royce Vavrek’s opera Song From the Uproar: The Lives and Deaths of Isabelle Eberhardt is based on the journals of Isabelle Eberhardt; a Swiss explorer, mystic and writer who roamed the deserts of North Africa before her untimely death at the age of 27. It was conceived as a multi-media opera and staged as such at The Kitchen in New York in 2012. A studio CD recording was made by the original cast soon after. One can get a s sense for the look and feel of the stage piece from the trailer for the original show which is still available on Youtube.
There’s no obvious linear narrative so it’s maybe best to think of listening to at as like listening to a song cycle in fifteen parts, as each section has its own distinct flavour. The music is boldly inventive. It combines a chamber ensemble (NOW Ensemble, conductor Steven Osgood) with electronics and there are jazz influences snd a soupçon of French cabaret style. The main vocalist is mezzo-soprano Abigail Fischer, who is excellent. She’s backed up by a vocal ensemble (Celine Mogielnicki and Amelia Watkins – soprano, Kate Maroney – alto, Tomas Cruz – tenor, Peter Stewart – baritone) who are sometimes like a chorus, sometimes more like characters.. In many ways it’s typical Mazzoli. There are lyrical passages, some of them quite meditative, mixed up with much more dramatic, even brutal sections. It frequently goes off in unexpected directions but still manages to sound “all of a pice”. It really left me wanting to see the staged version.
Recording quality is excellent but my downloaded copy lacked documentation. That’s not a big problem as there are comprehensive notes and even, courtesy of Cincinnati Opera, the full libretto available on-line.