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News - Missy Mazzoli's Song from the Uproar

Wednesday, February 01, 2012


Missy Mazzoli’s Song from the Uproar

Song from the Uproar: The Lives and Deaths of Isabelle Eberhardt is a multi-media chamber opera by composer Missy Mazzoli and filmmaker Stephen Taylor, created in collaboration with librettist Royce Vavrek and director Gia Forakis.

Mazzoli’s first opera is inspired by the life and writings of fiercely independent explorer Isabelle Eberhardt. Born in Geneva in 1877 to an aristocratic mother and an anarchist father, Isabelle took to donning men’s clothing at an early age in order to enjoy greater freedom and mobility. In 1897, she and her mother travelled to North Africa where they were converted to Islam and started to create a new life. Before their new life took hold, Isabelle’s mother passed away. Shortly after her mother’s death, Isabelle’s father succumbed to throat cancer and one of her brothers committed suicide. Propelled by an overwhelming sense of loneliness and loss, Isabelle moved permanently to Algeria in 1899.

Dressing as a man and calling herself Si Mahmoud Essadi, Isabelle travelled easily in Arab society. While there was no mistaking her true gender, the Africans, by all accounts treated her as a man. She joined a secret Sufi brotherhood, roamed the desert on horseback and even fought in street battles against French colonists. During different periods in history, Isabelle has been lionized and demonized for her disinterest in the social mores of her era and for engaging in numerous love affairs throughout her life. Soon after moving to Africa, Isabelle fell in love with an Algerian soldier, Slimene Ehnni and married him in 1901. The two had an erratic and passionate relationship, but in 1904, after a long separation, they made plans to settle down in Ain Sefra, Algeria. Isabelle rented a house in the town and awaited her husband. On October 21, 1904, a flash flood tore through the town, destroying the house and drowning Isabelle.

Song from the Uproar explores the timeless themes of Isabelle's story: the desire to break with one's past and forge a new identity, and the confusion of falling in love and the conflict between eastern and western culture. Isabelle transcends her trying circumstances in each scene, transforming from a depressed Swiss woman to a fearless Moroccan man, from a patient wife to a restless adventurer and, in her final aria, from life to death. Song from the Uproar moves beyond a chronological description of Isabelle's life and immerses the audiences in the emotional, dream-like landscapes of her astonishing journals. Traditional opera conventions are turned on their heads: a five-piece amplified chamber ensemble replaces the pit orchestra, and ghostly electronics waft in and out of the musical textures, layering the voices in unexpected and seemingly impossible ways. Stephen Taylor's haunting films and Gia Forakis's repetitive, dance-like staging add to the timeless, immersive nature of the work.

Song from the Uproar features musical performance by NOW Ensemble, mezzo-soprano Abigail Fischer and a small chorus. Song from the Uproar receives its world premiere at The Kitchen on February 24, 2012, produced by Beth Morrison Projects.

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