Travel Brochures

I was fortunate to make it to the final event in New Amsterdam record’s Undiscovered Islands series, a showcase for two intriguing works in progress, an opera from Missy Mazzoli and a new set of songs from William Brittelle. Despite some secondary flaws, I was left wanting more, making it a successful evening.

To start with the last, Brittelle is following up the amazing “Mohair Time Warp” (a record that demands more listening each time I put it on) with his own personal reactions to a mix of his favorite music. This is orchestral rock/pop that follows a grand design and a fairly grand tradition as well – his list doesn’t include Burt Bacharach or Chicago, but the best parts of that sound is there. Stylistically, the music embraces a reaching-for-the-stars quality with complete sincerity, and is accomplished, passionate, refreshing and satisfying. Technical problems had the singer’s part either missing or buried in the mix for a while, so exactly what the songs are is hard to say, although an un-ironic ballad about Sheena Easton is pretty good reflection of the sensibility. Brittelle strikes me as a longer-lasting pleasure than Beck, he’s as musically accomplished but strikes no poses.

Mazzoli’s opera, “Songs From The Uproar,” is based on the life and journals of Isabelle Eberhardt, and the hope is that it will come to the stage in complete form. It’s a collaboration with filmmaker, Stephen Taylor, and the film accomplishes what we are used to experiencing from stagecraft and the encapsulation of the libretto; it sets the context for the music, it gives dramatic meaning to what we are hearing Eberhardt express about herself. This was a much more successful use of film in opera than the recent Wooster group production of “La Didone.” That had the clever conceit of combining a Baroque opera with a lousy Mario Bava science-fiction movie, but the parallels of plot made it work. They also, however, made the endeavor ultimately jejeune, beyond the surface styles, they were very much the same, and so there was no dramatic challenge. “Songs From The Uproar” uses archival footage to develop a drama about a woman lost to history, we are watching film of people and places long since lost themselves, it’s like watching ghosts while hearing one sing about herself. It’s elegiac, fascinating and moving, and Mazzoli’s graceful scanning of the text and her skillful scoring that remains clear even as she presses chords against each other were highly effective. The performance was presented with some minimal stage direction that was unfortunately simplistic and obvious enough to detract from the beauty and power of the music and the film, especially in the thrilling reverie of the conclusion. Still, these complete works cannot get onto stage or into disc soon enough.


Author: gtra1n

I'm a composer and musician, and I write about music—I do that here, for the New York Classical Review, at the Brooklyn Rail (I edit the music section there) and any place else that will have me, like New Music Box and Music & Literature. I also wrote the Miles Davis' Bitches Brew book in the 33 1/3 series.