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'Song from the Uproar' Brings Explorer Isabelle Eberhardt's Story to the Stage

Jill Anna Ponasik

Milwaukee Opera Theater's new show, Song from the Uproar: The Lives and Death of Isabelle Eberhardt, is a multimedia chamber opera, guaranteed to be a unique theater experience.

Eberhardt was a 19th century Swiss explorer, who fell in love with the Sahara desert and traveled alone through Northern Africa. The show is based on her diaries, which were published decades after her death. 

"She had lost her family, mother, father and brother had kind of died in quick succession of different ailments," says Jill Anna Ponasik, the director of Song from the Uproar and the artistic director of Milwaukee Opera Theater. "At age 20, she responded to a voice inside and left for Algeria, and lived as a nomad. She just integrated herself into the existing culture." 

Song from the Uproar was written by Missy Mazzoli and Royce Vavrek, who based the premise on Eberhardt's own descriptions of her adventures. 

The Milwaukee Opera Theater's production is a collaboration with Wild Space Dance Company and features a cast of dancers, ensemble singers and a chamber orchestra. The show uses music and dance to examine Eberhardt's story, which was largely preserved by her personal diaries. The explorer survived an assassination attempt, only to die at the age of 27 in a flash flood. Much of her work was saved by people who lived in the village, who pulled her writings from the wreckage. 

"She had journals, she had novels, she had articles, she had a mass of writing materials and they dried them off and tried to preserve them. But some parts of her journals are missing. They weren't found," says Ponasik. "So there are gaps in her own version of her life story which I think are really beautifully cared for in this piece, like it's acknowledged that we don't have the complete story of Isabelle." 

Song from the Uproar premieres May 6 and runs through May 8 at the Broadway Theatre Center. 

Bonnie North
Bonnie joined WUWM in March 2006 as the Arts Producer of the locally produced weekday magazine program Lake Effect.