Song from the Uproar is an opera based on the life and writings of Swiss adventurer Isabelle Eberhardt (1877-1904). At the age of 20, after her mother, father and brother passed away within three years of each other, Eberhardt left her life in Switzerland for a nomadic and unfettered existence in North Africa. From 1900 to 1904, she traveled extensively through the desert on horseback, relentlessly documenting her travels in detailed journals and short stories. In 1901, she fell in love with Slimene Ehnni, an Algerian soldier, and they began a chaotic relationship marked by dramatic fights and long separations. Eberhardt defied conventions of her time; she dressed as a man, drank, smoked, and even joined a Sufi brotherhood that typically excluded women.
At age 27 she drowned in a flash flood in the desert. Pages from her journals had to be pulled from the flood and dried. Song from the Uproar: The Lives and Deaths of Isabelle Eberhardt explores the universality that makes her tale so vibrant and relevant, more than 100 years after her death.
The opera consists of nine sections, each describing a significant event in Isabelle's life. After a brief overture, we see Isabelle at home in Switzerland, reeling after the recent deaths of her family members. One by one the figures in the film fade and disappear, leaving only a little girl behind. In part two Isabelle begins her journey to Africa. The film shows rapid-fire shots of streets that slowly fill with people, trains, close-ups of faces; a contrast to the imagery of desolation and depression that closed the previous section. Isabelle's initiation into a Sufi cult defines the action of the next section, which builds to an exhilarating ecstatic climax.
In the next section, Isabelle sings a song to her lover, Slimene. The following section portrays a drunken episode of Isabelle regaling the denizens of a local cafe with joyful, out-of-tune singing that eventually devolves into pitiful depression.
In an instrumental interlude, we see Isabelle late in her life, worn down after years of nomadic wandering. She lies down on the ground and weeps, having aged far beyond her twenty-six years. In the next section an attempt is made upon her life by an assassin from a rival Sufi cult. The penultimate scene shows Isabelle's reaction to a letter she has received from Slimene, relating his intention to leave her for good. The scene becomes a catharsis, as she finally accepts whatever fate lies in store for her.
The opera's final scene shows the flash flood that suddenly took Isabelle's life. She welcomes her death as a final release from the restless wandering that had come to define her difficult life. The film projections engulf the stage with floodwaters that slowly rise over the course of the scene, dwarfing Isabelle. the opera closes with a final fleeting image of a high-diver turned upside down—Isabelle diving into the sky—before ending in blackness.