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Olde School CD Cover
Image © Decca Records 2008

More AnnMarie Milazzo:
interview and photos (2008)

AnnMarie Milazzo
AnnMarie Milazzo (lead vocals)
Image © Decca Records 2008


(29 September 2008) Classical crossover acts Bond, Trans-Siberian Orchestra and Mannheim Steamroller to name just a few have taken renowned classical musical works and infuse their own styles. However, no one comes close to the rock stylings and interpretative genius of the East Village Opera Company (EVOC) in their newest album, Olde School (Decca Records (USA) B001525-02, 2008). This astounding rock group was co-founded by vocalist Tyley Ross and arranger/multi-instrumentalist Peter Kiesewalter. AnnMarie Milazzo joined the ensemble as the female vocalist which also includes eight other members: two guitarists, a bassist, a percussionist, and a string quartet.

EVOC has successfully reimagined and created masterful contemporary versions of the classics. How would Bach, Puccini, Mozart, Handel and Verdi react to the explosive fusion of their celebrated arias with the forthright, bold and hard hitting rock edge that EVOC has expertly created? They would give a standing ovation to the innovative brilliance of this talented ensemble. The album took twelve months and fourteen engineers to record and involved 65 musicians in ten different studios around the world. EVOC has again in their third album taken a selection of opera arias and re-imagined them as popular songs, using full symphony orchestra, R&B horns, and choir alongside the group's guitars, drums, keyboards, string quartet, and singers. Arias by Verdi, Puccini, Bach, Mozart, and Wagner collide with Rock and Roll, R&B, 60s and 70s Pop, Surf, and Soul in an explosive mosaic of sound that is deliciously eclectic and singularly cohesive at the same time.

"We started with records from thrift shops and opera scores I found in the delete bins at the Strand Bookstore for selecting the material," says producer/arranger Peter Kiesewalter. "Then we gathered round the piano, stumbling our way through these gems and trying to figure out ways to make them our own. I put pencil to staff paper in writing initial arrangements out for the band and orchestra, just like I did in the old days. There's a spirit and sense of unfettered experimentation that artists like the Beatles, Marvin Gaye, Brian Wilson, and Led Zeppelin had on those great records of the mid to late 60s," Kiesewalter continues. "We unshackled the restraints on our imaginations in coming up with treatments, convincing ourselves to play and sing what we would never do with any other artist for reasons of, let's just say, good taste."

Singer and EVOC co-founder Tyley Ross said, "We took more liberties with the original arias on this record than we did on the last one. This time around we challenged ourselves to do more English songs which are pretty scarce in opera save for baroque and 20th century works. We played around with some Italian and French arias translated to English but they didn't jive with us stylistically, so on this record we've written some new lyrics and music, integrating them into the arias we selected."

From the opening track, EVOC takes classical music to a new level. "The Ride" from Richard Wagner's opera Die Walküre highlights the exciting vocals by Kieswalter, Milazzo and Ross. Their progressive rock style comes through loud and clear with marvelous Pink Floyd-like guitar solos and striking vocals. "King of the Night" from Mozart's Die Zauberflöte brings to mind a certain Freddie Mercury type energy that Queen fans will adore. AnnMarie Milazzo continues to bring her gorgeous fluidity to "Help Me," adapted from Handel's opera Semele. Her gentle and stunning soprano vocals are delivered with an emotive quality. She brings poignancy and tenderness to this lilting piece.

Everyone is familiar with Verdi's famed La Traviata and EVOC's "Brindisi Libera (Pop the Cork)" is outstanding with its disco beat interspersed with English and Italian lyrics. One can't help but move to the beat, and the solo Italian aria almost enters into the mix as a surprise to remind the listener that this is based on a classical work. The ending is jazz infused with its trumpet solo. Bononcini's opera Griselda is the framework for "Gloria." This flowing and lyrical arrangement has an exquisite air to it, boasting beautiful vocals. "Walk" is another track that is derived from Handel's Semele. Classic rock fans will enjoy the characteristic beat and timeless appeal of this song.

"As You Were Then" from Bellini's opera Norma transforms this music created in 1831 into a masterful contemporary work. Milazzo's beautiful, soothing voice almost whispers serenity. Her gentle tones crescendo into a delightful climax. A children's choir introduces "Soldiers" from Gounod's opera Faust. This rhythmic piece has a contagious percussive beat that infuses spoken word within this ambitious interpretation. "You're Not Alone" is another outstanding track adapted from the aria "Schafe Können Sicher Weiden" from Cantata BWV 208 Was Mir Behagt, Ist Nur Die Muntre Jagd by Johann Sebastian Bach. EVOC has certainly taken some creative liberties with this piece, but accomplished their effort in outstanding style.

Who hasn't heard music from "Tosca" by Puccini? "Va Tosca" has great depth and a haunting and deliberate determination in the soaring vocals. The album closes with the poignant "Butterfly Duet" from Puccini's Madame Butterfly. This fusion of classic opera and contemporary flair creates a genuine and dynamic vitality that EVOC specializes in to the nth degree.

One would imagine that the true essence of these classics would be lost with what some opera afficiandos would call a bastardization of the original work. This couldn't be further from the truth! Not only was the original integrity of each piece maintained, but the music absolutely electrified the listener. EVOC's musical interpretation is infectious and scintillating. A new generation of classical music lovers will be introduced to this marvelous reinterpretation of the world's beloved works. The East Village Opera Company can only be described as visionaries, and their innovative and inspired style is brilliant!--Audrey Elliot in New York

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