From the first track to the last, this album will captivate you with its mixture of Michelle Hache’s incredible vocal delivery, underscored by the ambient, synthetic textures of Derek Smootz. The selection of arias from a variety of operas will be familiar to many classical listeners, but Michelle’s interpretations must be heard to be believed. Her notes flow effortlessly, regardless of volume or pitch, in an aural outpouring that is neither forced nor ingenuous. Derek’s music is a blend of contemporary, minimalist soundscapes and deft instrumentation that accentuates Michelle’s performances. He works with the vocals, allowing them to shine without losing anything in the mix. The mix itself is excellent; the vocals possess a clarity that is often lacking in other artist’s work. The music embellishes each piece with no superfluous stylings—Derek knows what he’s doing here, and it’s wonderful.
My favorite tracks are ‘Porgi, amor’, ‘Dido’s Lament’, and ‘Flower Duet’, though there isn’t a weak track on the album. I really admire how Derek has reimagined these arias; his music alters how each is presented, and how it affects the listener. I’ve heard the originals in the operatic/classical repertoire, and these versions are certainly different. In some ways, they are more accessible (opera can be intimidating to those unfamiliar with it); in others, they evoke different imagery, engender different emotional responses than perhaps the original composers intended. But that’s great, because music is kept alive by fresh interpretation. If an opera purist finds fault with these songs, then that fault lies with them, not Zephyrium’s performance.
If there’s a theme here, it is certainly one of a voyage, as the album is rightfully named. The pieces don’t clash with one another, but lead you deeper and deeper into a place of tranquility. It’s like walking through a forest at the height of summer, the wind blowing the leaves, teasing your hair, as you follow a meandering footpath bordered with flowing streams and wild flowers. That’s how this album made me feel—peaceful, relaxed, and emotionally satisfied after the final note fades away. The cover, with Michelle floating in a river, is perfect: these songs will buoy you above the things in life than make you sink into the darkness.
I’m already looking for more of Derek and Michelle’s work to add to my music library, and I will definitely keep an eye on Zephyrium. But don’t take my word for it. Listen for yourself, and enjoy the journey.
Click to visit Zephyrium's website.