Tuesday, May 28, 2013
Missy Mazzoli at (le) poisson rouge
(le) poisson rouge above is a basement music venue on Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village on the site of what was once the Village Gate jazz club. (Photo above is by Sheryl Woodruff at the Off The Grid blog, which has an interesting history of the building.) The five-year old club was instantly famous from its opening, for presenting wildly eclectic, adventurous music programs that range from classical (old and contemporary), jazz, hip-hop and salsa, and even the occasional opera. (Click here for their schedule.)
Rather like Carnegie Hall the previous week, the place exceeded expectations, with its rock club musclebound bouncers at the door, a dark, red-lit stairway to the basement, and a surprisingly large room with a stage at one end and a bar at the other, sandwiching small dinner tables in the middle.
Last Wednesday evening, the young Brooklyn-based composer Missy Mazzoli above presented a program of her music performed by her own ensemble Victoire, which included the singers Mellissa Hughes and Caroline Shaw, Olivia De Prato on violin, Eileen Mack on clarinet, Lorna Krier on keyboards, Eleanore Oppenheim on bass, and Mazzoli herself pounding out the continuo on electronic keyboards.
They played I am coming for my things and Like a Miracle, along with selections from Mazzoli's recent opera, Song from the Uproar: The Lives and Deaths of Isabelle Eberhardt, about the late 19th century Scandinavian explorer who became a Muslim and lived as a male in Algeria before marrying an Algerian man and dying young in a desert flash flood. The music was beautiful, sounding like a mix between Meredith Monk and John Adams but with its own voice, and the lead vocal performance by mezzo-soprano Abigail Fischer above was peerless, possibly because it was written for her. (Click here for Mazzoli's webpage where you can listen to individual tracks and download the music from a recent recording by New Amsterdam Music.)
The only problem with the evening was that the program was in collaboration with Gotham Chamber Opera where a handful of singers would pop out and sing some of Missy's favorite arias from the operatic repertory, with surprisingly plodding piano accompaniment by Neil Goren, Gotham's founder, general director, and former professional accompanist. (Click here for an interview with him at Opera Today.) Unfortunately, the singers were either students or young professionals, and they were completely inadequate for the difficult music they were supposed to sing: a Verdi duet from Un Ballo in Maschera, a Purcell aria from King Arthur, and Now the Great Bear and Pleiades from Peter Grimes (Missy's favorite opera, according to her introduction). The only happy exception was Abigail Fischer in a song from Mahler's Ruckert-Lieder with Todd Palmer accompanying her exquisitely on clarinet from a music stand next to the kitchen door.
This New York visit has been filled with one moment after another reminding me that I live in a small, provincial burg in San Francisco. So in a way it was reassuring to have a small, snobbish musical moment. "Merola Opera would never have singers this unprepared. Neither would Opera Parallele (Gotham's West Coast counterpart). If these are the musical standards in New York, I'm better off in San Francisco." Like I said, it was a small moment, and we slipped out the backstage exit before the final Alerte, Alerte trio from Gounod's Faust, but I am looking forward to hearing Fischer and Mazzoli again anywhere they happen to be performing.