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.
It’s hard to think of a play that would make a better basis for an opera libretto than Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac. Henri Cain’s adaptation is rather good; somewhat simplifying and tightening up the plot in a similar manner to that later taken by Britten and Pears with A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It’s a shame Franco Alfano’s music doesn’t really rise to the same heights. It has its moments, especially later in the opera, but much of the time it’s dull and impressionistic; more like a film soundtrack than an opera score. I guess the lesson is that one just can’t do verismo while trying to avoid vulgarity and excessive melodrama. It also has to be said that much of the time the music seems to be fighting the natural rhythm of the words rather than supporting it. What the music does have is Alfano’s trademark torturing of his singers, especially the principal four roles of Cyrano, Roxane, Christian and De Guiche.