“An opera begins long before the curtain goes up and ends long after it has come down. It starts in my imagination, it becomes my life, and it stays part of my life long after I’ve left the opera house.”
– Maria Callas
Opera is a place where all other art forms – art, film, even dance – meet to create a spectacular production. This is a convergence that’s very familiar to mezzo-soprano Abigail Fischer, who plays Isabelle Eberhardt in Missy Mazzoli’s Song from the Uproar. Fischer utilizes various artistic talents in the multimedia opera now showing at REDCAT. It is her haunting singing, however, that mesmerizes throughout the 75-minute opera.
“Singing is a very intimate art form. It’s very connected to the deepest parts of you. You really have to know yourself,” says Fischer. The intimacy of singing – and truly all performance – is heightened in Song from the Uproar, because of its abstractness. Fischer plays Isabelle Eberhardt solely, but there is also a “Chorus of Isabelles” that alternatively showcases Eberhardt’s emotions. There’s a strong synergy between the chorus members and Fischer to the point where they repeat each other’s dance moves and lyrics. Together, they illustrate the evolving psyche of a complicated woman, her many lives, and her many deaths.
Isabelle Eberhardt lived an exceedingly fascinating life for women of her time. She relocated to North Africa, dressed as a man, and converted to Islam, all of her own volition. Tragically, she passed away during a flash flood in the Algerian province of Ain Sefra in 1904.
Like composer Missy Mazzoli before her, Fischer was drawn to Eberhardt’s story after reading her journals. “Isabelle was so emotionally potent and a true pioneer female explorer,” says Fischer. This emotional journey is greatly explored in Song from the Uproar, where Fischer portrays Eberhardt during several crucial points in her life, including discovering a new found faith in Islam and a failed suicide pact. These moments are wonderfully expressed through a diverse band of a double bass (the only string instrument), piano, electric guitar, clarinet, and flute. Songs such as “I Have Arrived,” signaling Eberhardt’s arrival in North Africa hold “a lightness and exuberance to the music that is unlike anything” heard for the rest of the opera.
Here Fischer hits the nail on the head as to why Song from the Uproar is so beautifully effective both to those involved artistically and those watching Eberhardt’s story unfold from the audience. The music perfectly illustrates Eberhardt’s emotional trajectory from a woman who has just arrived in North Africa, full of promise and potential, to a woman Fischer says is “weighed down by her feeling that she would die young and the weight of having lost her family at such a young age.”
Song from the Uproar is truly an opera that stays with you after you’ve experienced it. For Fischer, it’s because she gets to understand Isabelle Eberhardt on all levels, “as a devout believer in Islam, a woman who loves a man, an independent explorer, and as a free woman who loved to explore herself sexually.” It’s a character that has truly affected Fischer, who has been involved with the project since 2007. To grow with a woman such as Eberhardt is a tremendous gift and Fischer believes that there is a part of Isabelle in every creative who has been closely tied to Song from the Uproar. She says, “The depth of [Isabelle’s} human experience is so profound, you don’t need to know her story in order to appreciate her depth, but knowing her story only increases the understanding of what a human can experience. Isn’t that why we watch art, to understand various depths of human experience? There is an Isabelle in all of us.”