Featured Creator: Missy Mazzoli of Song from the Uproar

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Today's featured creator is Missy Mazzoli, a Brooklyn-based composer who has been deemed "one of the more inventive and surprising composers now working in New York" by none other than the NY Times.  Her project will help her bring her new stage play, a multi-media opera about the life of infamous adventurer Isabelle Eberhardt, to life. 

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Introduce yourself!

My name is Missy Mazzoli; I'm the composer of Song from the Uproar, an opera premiering February 24-March 3 at The Kitchen in New York City.

Can you take us inside the project a bit? How did you first learn about Isabelle Eberhardt and what first inspired you to turn her life story into a new project?

I first heard of Isabelle Eberhardt after picking up a copy of her journals in a Boston bookstore in 2004, and I instantly felt that her story was begging for an opera. Isabelle Eberhardt was born in 1877 in Geneva and, at a young age, moved to North Africa by herself. She dressed as a man, converted to Islam, roamed the desert on horseback, fell in love with an Algerian soldier, and at age 27 died in a flash flood. I was struck by the universal themes in her story — how much her passions, ambitions, and questions mirrored those of women in the 21st century. I felt an instant connection to her.

What's it been like collaborating with so many people on this ambitious project? Have their been any roadblocks? Moments of overcoming obstacles/adversity?

This is definitely the biggest and most ambitious project I've ever initiated! There are dozens of people involved in the creation of this work, but they're all incredible so I don't need to worry about things falling apart. This is probably a boring answer but the biggest roadblock has been, and always is, fundraising.  Our ideas are always bigger than our wallets!

As someone whose been involved in a few Kickstarter campaigns, how do you think creator-fan interactions are changing as we continue into the 21st century?

I think there is definitely less of a barrier between creators and fans, and between creators and funders.  As a result of forums like Kickstarter I think the arts scene has become more of a democracy, but there's also a lot more pressure on artists these days to be great fundraisers, organizers and benefit party-throwers as well as creators. This paradigm works for me and my personality, but I recognize that it's very daunting for many artists.  I try to work towards building a community of collaborators and supporters that will one day be self-supporting.

How did you first come across Abigail Fischer and the NOW Ensemble, and how did their involvement affect the development of this opera?

I've known NOW Ensemble since 2004, when they first started performing together. I met Abigail Fischer soon after moving to New York City in 2006. (I remember we sat down for coffee after seeing a Philip Glass opera at the Met and I blurted out "I want to write an opera for you"!) We've all been friends with each other for years, and I knew that these performers wouldn't be afraid of my craziest and most ambitious musical ideas. Since it was written for my friends, this opera contains some of the most personal, (and I think some of the best) music I have ever written.  

Song from the Uproar is the first part of a trilogy of operas. How do you see the next two installments unfolding in the future? Are you planning on working with the same musicians and artists?

Each installment of this opera trilogy is based on a fascinating female character from the 20th and 21st century.  While I hope to work with Abigail FIscher and NOW Ensemble for the rest of my life, I'm not yet sure of the exact forces for these next two operas! I only hope that each one gets bigger and crazier and better than the last.

How does the film aspect sync with the live performance? Were there any moments that sent you back to the drawing board as they came together?

I worked with filmmaker Stephen Taylor almost from the day I conceived of this piece, so the films are completely integrated into the set and the music. There are films throughout the piece, and I see them as an emotional counterpoint to the sonic world. We've definitely gone back to the drawing board a hundred times over with this piece. I think it's inevitable with any large-scale multimedia work. You never know quite how you're going to feel until you see all the elements together.

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