Any true fusion in music represents a delicate negotiation. It requires both respect for the different genres in play, their traditions and codes and a 'why not?' attitude. Cutting-and-pasting is one thing, translating the approach, technique and sensibility of one tradition to another demands a special talent and commitment.
On Nora La Bella, her debut recording, New York-based Bolivian soprano Gian-Carla Tisera makes bold, daring crossings between opera, jazz and Latin American folk music, art song and political song, experimentation and roots music.
Throughout the recording, she sings in English, Spanish, Italian and Quechua. Co-produced by Tisera and Grammy-nominated Cuban pianist Elio Villafranca, Nora La Bella includes original songs, provocative versions of two works from the classical vocal repertoire and several pieces from the Latin American songbook, including a couple from the socially committed Nueva Canción.
But this is not a lab project. Rather, it's an expression of her experience and her personal search.
"I had this idea for a new kind of opera, something different, accessible and fresh," says Tisera. "I love opera and that's my training, and while I am not a jazz singer or a traditional folk singer, both genres have been an integral part of my life and my musical experience. And I also thought: how can I express my immigrant experience? How can I speak of my perspective as a Bolivian woman, as an American woman looking back at my country from a distance? All of that came into play when working on Nora La Bella."
Accompanied by a quartet featuring Villafranca at the piano and guest artists such as trumpeter Diego Urcola and five-time Grammy Award-winning bassist John Benitez, Tisera's music includes nods to Bolivian folklore, opera and Latin jazz.
Tisera will celebrate the release of Nora la Bella tomorrow night (Thursday, August 21) at Joe's Pub in New York at 7:30 PM. Accompanying the vocalist for the performance are pianist Elio Villafranca, bassist Carlos Mena, drummer Franco Pinna and percussionist Paulo Stagnaro. The performance will also feature guest trumpeter Manuel Jr. Romero.
Born to a Bolivian mother and Italo-Argentine father, Tisera was raised in Cochabamba, a city surrounded by mountains located in the center of Bolivia. She studied at the Instituto Eduardo Laredo, in Cochabamba, and later moved to Los Angeles, CA, where she completed her Masters Degree in Opera Performance at the University of Southern California.
She worked in the United States and Bolivia, performing with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the National Symphony Orchestra of Bolivia and the Pasadena Symphony, among others, and for five years she toured with the Bolivian Baroque Project, performing 17th century music found in the Jesuit missions of the Bolivian jungle - a project that showcased her voice on the world's greatest concert halls. But once in New York, Tisera also started collaborating with visual artists and dipping her toes in the murky waters of jam sessions.
For those who see her approach as avant-garde, Tisera says she is "pushing the vanguard but to bring audiences to experience the greatness of opera as it relates to modern themes of love, politics and culture. I long to present opera not like an old, precious form but instead, as a vibrant, contemporary style that speaks to our concerns now. That's why there are operatic moments in Nora La Bella - but they might include improvisation, or the musical treatment might include Bolivian or Afro-Latin rhythms, and elements of Rock or Spoken Word. I remember during the recording we were listening to the second take of 'Ernesto in the Tomb,' with its Afro-Cuban groove and my operatic voice soaring above the music. The musicians heard it and said 'Wow, it works!' and I had to laugh. 'Yes guys, of course it works'."
Upcoming New York City Performances:
August 21 @ Joe's Pub - 7:30 PM
(w/ Elio Villafranca, piano; Carlos Mena, bass; Franco Pinna, drums;
Paulo Stagnaro, percussion; w/ guest trumpeter Manuel Jr. Romero)
September 30 @ Americas Society - 7:00 PM
featuring Bolivian Folklore Dancers
(w/ Elio Villafranca, piano; Carlos Mena, bass;
Franco Pinna, drums; Reinaldo de Jesus, percussion)