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About this Piece

An accomplished and wildly imaginative composer as well as a charismatic vocalist, Cécile McLorin Salvant has a background in Baroque opera as well as jazz, and her interests include visual art, mythology, and theater as well as music. These all come together in Ogresse, a 90-minute dramatic song cycle that she premiered at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in September 2018. Ogresse is a “story at once epic and intimate, full of unexpected detours,” as Will Friedwald wrote in his Wall Street Journal review after its Jazz at Lincoln Center performance last year. “Virtually everything about it is staggeringly original.”

McLorin Salvant wrote the libretto herself. (She also wrote and illustrated an accompanying book, and designed her onstage costume.) The story is a grim fairytale about a monster who has fled to the forest after an unspecified trauma. She develops a taste for human flesh – a couple of recipes, sung in French, about just how to cook humans provide darkly humorous asides – and a man from the local town decides to seduce her in order to kill her. His sweet blandishments prove hard to resist, despite the good advice the ogresse receives from forest animals about the man’s true intentions. It doesn’t end well for either, as the ogresse, “in an act of ill-advised vengeance, ends up eating her lover in what amounts to a kind of perverse murder-suicide.” (Matt Kassell, JazzTimes)

“There’s the whole idea of the strong woman, the beautiful woman, this ‘Oh, I woke up like this, I’m amazing’ thing, ‘I am powerful, I am woman, dah dah dah, I’m not flawed, I am perfect as I am,’ you know — that type of presence, which I think is very exciting and interesting,” McLorin Salvant told Matt Kassell. “But I also like the idea of a deeply flawed, troubled, grotesque, ugly female. I think that idea, and what that entails, and what that means, and the consequences of that, excite me a lot. And so I wanted to work with that idea in whatever way I could think of.”

McLorin Salvant composed the songs for Ogresse over the course of a year while touring. She then brought in composer/bandleader Darcy James Argue to arrange some of the songs for an album. But during their collaboration, the project turned into a theatrical show instead, with McLorin Salvant embodying multiple narrative voices over Argue’s deft orchestrations. The singer has expressed her keen interest in acting, and indeed, notes that “jazz would not be what it is without its theatrical origins, vaudeville, and minstrel shows.”