Washington Post Review from Atlas Theater Show in DC with Newspeak


It’s been a really fun two weeks playing with Newspeak, one of my favorite bands, first at the Invisible Dog, and Friday at the Atlas Theater in DC, the latter was made even more awesome due to its proximity to Dangerously Delicious Pies.   We were rewarded with a fantastic review in the Washington Post! You can check out the full review here, but a few choice quotes:

In the tiny but essential niche of punk-classical music, Newspeak pretty much rules. Driving rhythms, sophisticated compositions by cutting-edge composers, virtuosic playing on electrified instruments — there’s little not to like about the New York-based ensemble

And about yours truly

Newspeak’s gutsy soprano Mellissa Hughes, leading the ensemble with fire and purpose, ratcheted the work to a wild, intoxicating pitch

Newspeak @ LPR

There’s some great video below of our joint performance with The Fiery Furnaces captured by vlogger Ephman. I can’t say much for the sound quality, but what you do get is a pretty good picture of what rocking out with your friends looks like! Hit US is part of three pieces performed by the one man band that is Massey….. I didn’t realize until my first rehearsal with Newspeak that Massey, aka Andrea Mazzariello was a man, so, I sang the first two in the soprano octave until David graciously stopped me, and told me I should be singing in the tenor clef. My Bad! So, yeah, it lies REALLY low in my register, or not quite my “fac” as I like to say..

What I like most about this video is my little foot dance halfway through. God, if my voice teacher from grad school could see this. It may not be Handel, but I am selling the shit out of it!


You may have noticed that I haven’t been posting lately. This is for two reasons:
1. I’ve been insanely busy with shows.
2. I’ve been insanely neurotic about my writing…

Fuck that. From a review of my 8/18 – 8/23 run of the Newspeak Non Sequitur show at the Flea:

It should come as no surprise the most transportive piece was that of composer David First’s adaptation of Ansel Berrigan’s dark and lyrical ” Let Us Sample Protection Together.” David First, one of Philadelphia’s founding father’s of experimental ambient sound, elevates Mellissa Hughes’ vocal to hallucinogenic heights. “…Protection Together” felt like the longest single performance of the evening, but may have been surpassed in length by the cheerfully disjointed closing piece, “What Remains”. If there can be any complaint, it is that Hughes’ Sarah Brightman-esque vocals favored operatic stylings in favor of elocution; we could not always understand Berrigan’s words, which is a shame since they convey perfectly the ambivalence of the outsider artist struggling to survive:
I won’t belong to this scripted conversation/Though I might play along.

I HATE Sarah Brightman….tremendously. This is HILARIOUS. I think by operatic stylings they mean I used a little bit of vib above the staff, like once or twice to get through a phrase. I don’t vib if a composer specifally says not to, because the human voice is actually capable of doing both… however, la voce was really really really tired, and it’s just easier up there to let her rip when I start feeling tight. But interesting because so many people commented on how they could understand every word, even when the range was extended…hmmm.

My theory: my purple dress and sparkle leggings and Aqua-Net sprayed CURE hairstyle brought this to mind?

Rzewski and Newspeak at the Lyceum

Please go over to the WNYC site and read/listen to the interview with David T. Little and Rzewski…. it was quite possibly the most awkward 15 minutes of my musical life, but hey, my new motto is, if you don’t leave an audience uncomfortable after viewing concert, you’re not doing your job…..

In the post are video footage of the interview, as well as two audio clips of Newspeak performing Coming Together ( and rocking the fuck out, I might add- listen with good speakers/headphones) and the Price of Oil, which I’m beginning to love more and more…..

I think we performed very well, but the awkwardness of the interview to come, and performing post- interview and not letting the no-one-knows-why-birds-sing bullshit influence our playing was a bit too intense after a long week of late night rehearsals. Bottom line: we knew it would be tough to get Rzewski to talk, but we had no idea that when he did, he would talk ad nauseum, ad infinitum et ad insanitum…..that part was real fun.

Mad props to David for organizing this concert, and giving me a shout out on his blog

MATA Festival Review

Newspeak rounded out the 10th (!!!) MATA Festival on Friday night. Kudos to Missy Mazzoli and Chris McIntyre, new directors, in what seemed like a flawlessly executed festival. I’m really looking forward to seeing what they have in store for the future. I’ve performed at the Brooklyn Lyceum before. As a performance space, it just made sense with this repertoire, and it was packed, and I have to say as a Brooklynite, it was sweet going three stops home!!

I had a total blast performing David T. Little’s “Sweet Light Crude” a song “about loving something you know is really bad for you”…. we can all relate to that, can’t we??? I think out of all the vocal Newspeak music I’ve done, this may be the best text setting I’ve come across. Composers take note!!! When the text setting is well thought out, it just feels good in the mouth, the singer will want to linger on the consonants. That’s the key to lieder, you just want to taste the words… it’s also why hearing Winterreise in English is just tragic.

I digress, There’s a great festival review on Feast of Music. and there’s a pic of me rocking out towards the bottom!! Here’s some Newspeak highlights:

It’s not every day that you see a composer leading his work from the drumkit, but that’s exactly what Little did for his sweet light crude (2007). Set to his own gothic poem relating a lover’s desperate pleas, Little built a soundscape of searing intensity, mixing techniques familiar from both rock ballads and new music. Vocalist Melissa Hughes delivered an intense performance, ripping through the poem with a voice that was both haunting and beautiful. Unlike so many of today’s academic composers, Little writes from the gut. He is someone to watch.
Newspeak ended their set with Oscar Bettison’s Breaking and Entering (with aggravated assault). Holy crazy ass shit: talk about loud and aggressive. It was balls out, the kind of thing I’d expect to hear at some of the better experimental rock venues in town. I don’t know if people were screaming for the exits or not: I was too busy rocking out in my chair to care.

I’ll take haunting and beautiful…..and hell-total-ass-shit-crazy-yeah! Every time I hear the Bettison I just want to bang on something!!! Which is kind of embarrassing seeing as there’s no vocal part in it…….

MATA Festival begins Today!!

All week long at everyone’s favorite industrial performing space Brooklyn Lyceum, treat yourself to a plethora of sound installations, and evening concerts featuring HOT young composers presented by the MATA Festival.

NEWSPEAK (with yours truly) will share the bill with Either/Or on Friday night to close it all down. The program will feature works of Sean Griffin (a MATA Festival commission), David T. Little, Missy Mazzoli, Richard Carrick, Andrew Byrne and Oscar Bettison. I’ve heard the Griffin is VERY theatrical…my friend Caleb warned me that he’s playing the role of John Cage. Trust me, it’ll be a great show, any night you chose to come out.

Tix are $15 for adults, and $10 for students and seniors for the concerts, the installations are free and are presented in collaboration between MATA and Diapason Gallery.

And stay tuned for more info on NEWSPEAK’s “Music By, For and Against Frederic Rzewski at age 70” May2nd, also at the Brooklyn Lyceum.

Melly gets hyperlink-tastic

Bad Blogger!!! Bad!!! How dare you ignore your adoring public for so long Melly….. Well, to perpetuate my habit of lame excuse giving… I’ve been real real busy. So busy I haven’t even posted any pics of my new hair… Kind of cut it all off, like ALL off.

What have you been doing you ask? Well, singing with Passenger Fish, we have the ABSOLUTE worst audio and video sample up, not sure why… but the site is amazing, and there are some great pics up from our gig last Wednesday at the Tank ( where I’ll be performing TimberBrit in March) I’m totally digging singing with a band. I’ll take that over Handel, ANYDAY. I also began rehearsals for my super uber awesome friend Ted Hearne’s show The Katrina Ballads, also way fun,and my first NEWSPEAK gig is this coming Monday…. jeez.

Went to VT for the weekend with Matt. Missed our train, took 3 buses, walked from the bus to the hotel (that’s two years in the running for that little mistake, you’d think between all the tech and gadget knowledge between the two of us, we’d figure out pre-booking by now….Alas) Drank entirely too much coffee, and hung out in amazing bookstores, and were nearly run off the rode by two people on motorized scooters. That may have been my favorite part, or maybe watching Matt eat a lobster while wearing that silly bib they give you.

When I got on the train and hooked up my Bluetooth so I could geek out on my Reader, I had over a 1,000 items…. Google Reader caps out at 1,000. I have no idea how many posts were actually in my Reader, and it took about six hours to get it under 1,000. Not only that, I had been working sooo hard in order to get the hell out of the city, that I had missed the Illinois shooting entirely. Didn’t know about it until Saturday. I’m not proud of that.

So, my starred section in my Reader is a burstin’ so, I’m gonna go crazy hyperlink-tastic on you: Good news if you plan on traveling through Texas anytime soon, you can bring your sex toys with ya. Dolly’s postponing her February tour, but she’s got a great sense of humor about it..”hey, you try wagging these puppies around a while and see if you don’t have back problems.”

K, in the feminist world…..ummm. Sick of people asking me if I’m voting for Hillary, or if being a feminist means that I HAVE to vote for Hillary….. yeah, all you who think that, should maybe think about crawling back into that pit of primordial ooze you somehow escaped from…. Just a thought. But, did anyone notice that Barack was called a pussy??? You know my ears perk up when that word is used. With all the hype of the Jane Fonda casually dropping the c bomb, well, I have to admit it made me think….Nope, still think calling anyone a pussy or that *other* word which I still haven’t reclaimed or whatever, is just plain old-not right.

I’m also trying to immerse myself in the comic book world. There’s definitely a connection between feminism and comic book reading. check out Alan Moore‘s series of articles published in the 1983 on feminine stereotypes in comics… and sigh, as not much has changed. But check it out anyways, because the scans are really beautiful.

Okay, and I leave you with something beyond words….you’ll thank me after…

A 2007 mem blog from the diva from the depths of disillusionment

At the end of 2007, my little ibook is nearing full capacity. I spent last night cleaning out old files, pics, papers and blog posts, and found this one that I never posted from back in March. It’s actually quite relevant to what I want to say today. Bear with me, it’s kinda long, but somewhat entertaining….So, grab yourself a cup of coffee, or star for later if you’re a Google Reader type.

MARCH 30th 2007 I’m in hell…. Or Lime Rock CT

I should have known when I passed the giant wooden bear, the Haut Bois Farm, and the Land of Nod winery that I was in for quite a weekend. The wackiness that I’ve encountered seems a fitting ending to my two weeks of Handel and Haydn. In the past four days I have performed the Haydn Lord Nelson Mass, and the Michael Haydn Requiem, and Handel’s Israel in Egypt. I’m writing this blog from a small church in Lime Rock CT, where I’m performing Haydn’s Creation Mass and the Little Organ Mass, which has a killer soprano solo….needless to say I’m SICK of H&H, and could use a little R&R…

Lime Rock is in the middle of nowhere, as evidenced by my lack of a cell signal. I’ve been standing around for an hour already, in heels, and a skirt and even eyeliner ( I NEVER wear eyeliner, for crying out loud) … as a side note, I’m not sure who decided that you sing better in heels, but there was definitely a time where one did not show up to a rehearsal anywhere without 3 inch heels, gloves, and a hat. Gone are those days, but I still think it’s nice to dress up for an orchestral rehearsal. Granted, the instrumentalists are usually in whatever they feel most comfy in, but there is a singer mentality that states that you must be pimped out to be taken seriously. I’m not saying that I agree, or disagree, but I’m just recognizing the difference between the instrumentalists and singers. Or the “soloists and musicians” as the conductor called us, because, you know, singers aren’t musicians.

Well there I am decked out in my heels and skirt, and make up, and curled hair and was a little concerned that we wouldn’t be finished with our rehearsal by 9 pm… and oh my god, we soooooo were not. I did not sing a note until 9:30 (30 minutes after my contract stated that I should be finished.) I thought about leaving, but my other soloist colleagues were willing to wait. The orchestra had been there since 6pm, and finally, thank sweet Jesus, one of them spoke up at 10 pm and told her that they needed to stop, aka, she fully expected us to go until 11 pm, or however late we needed to go to get through it all….. No, I’m sorry, a dress rehearsal is for the soloists and the orchestra not for the choir…am I right??

A word about the conductor: She’s an Amazon woman from some Eastern European country. She must be over six feet tall and is incredibly intimidating and short in temperament. Most conductors adopt a certain gesticular vocabulary, she is all about “the claw”. Her hands are spread as if she were holding imaginary soup cans, but instead of dropping down into a beat pattern, she swings her hands at you…it’s the strangest thing I’ve ever seen. From the periphery, it seems like she’s beating the choir…and you can imagine how difficult it is to sing for that… she’s screaming at the altos for not singing with a relaxed and open throat, but she was pummeling them like they were a punching bag….. and this is Haydn!!!! If I was only watching her conduct and had to guess what the piece was, I would easily guess the final chorus entrance from Mahler 2….

I can’t follow a beat pattern, because there is no ictus… every once in a while she flips and starts stomping on her podium, which then begins to rock, and there’s some nice backbeat action which you can coast on for a few bars, but then it’s back to this nebulous beating… honestly, this is what happens when harpsichordists/organists get up to conduct. It also occurred to me that she’s not conducting an actual beat pattern, but is conducting the choral entrances. I figured this out during the fugue section of the final chorus of the Creation, when what seemed like the closest thing I had seen to an actual downbeat in the past 48 hours happened on the upbeat of two…hmm??? I finally just stopped looking at her, and the four soloists just decided that if it slowed down, we would pick it back up. The four of us are also not sitting in front of the orchestra. We are sitting on this small stage over to stage left, so when the conductor is facing the choir, beats 1 2 and 3 are all in the same place, I have recently figured out that when she raises both arms and makes what seems like a “closing the trunk of the car” gesture, it’s her 4… (the actual closing of the trunk is the 1, but with no definitive “slam”)

So what’s my point, besides venting about shitty gigs? A gig can be shitty in many ways: 1) it pays shit, but the music’s great 2) it’s shitty music, but pays great, 3) the music’s great, the pay is great, but you are being demoralized by an incompetent idiot… that’s my gig this weekend. The rep is fantastic, I have a trillion solos, and as much as it’s hard to get along with this conductor (who may not be aware of how rude she seems, it could be a cultural thing, I need to keep reminding myself) the orchestra sounds great, and if I can keep my cool, and show them that I can do my thing, and cope with a conductor who gets her jollies making up for her lack of musicianship and confidence by musically beating her soloists, then I’ve proven to them that I know the game, that I’m a seasoned player, and that they should pass my name along.

But seriously, this is why we have unions. I was seriously debating walking out last night, and for a second, I thought that maybe I should, for the sake of all our professional livelihoods. But I guess these are my dues to pay for now, until I can afford to say no to a few gigs, or hold out in hopes that a better one will come along. Regardless, I’m learning a lot about how to get what I need out of the orchestra in order to make the most of these long phrases, and also learning how to do that without damaging the incredibly frail ego of “Thor”, and there will be many more “Thors”.

I realize that I’m incredibly lucky to make a living on what I love to do, in fact, I’m the only one from my Yale quartet that is currently making a living purely on singing, and that’s not something that I should take for granted. I recognize that I may not be able to do this forever, and so I need to take this shitty gig, and myself seriously, and that includes behaving as a professional at all times, smiling sweetly when I am being reduced to the status of a mere singer, and not being given the title musician that I have worked so hard for. And from now on I’m only taking gigs with reliable cell service.


Wow, a lot has happened since March. Some great gigs, some not so great gigs. In May when I moved to the city I had the same naive idealistic dream every musician has, I would unpack my stuff and immediately start gigging. Obviously it doesn’t work that way, and on some level I knew that. I spent the summer scrounging for gigs, as every musician does during the summer. My big highlight was covering a role at the Lincoln Center Summer Festival, great music, fantastic pay, great team of musicians, and a little shout out in Opera News. However, I had run out of steam in terms of the early music scene. I didn’t want it anymore. All that work last year was great for me professionally in terms of networking and all that, but it had been a long time since I had enjoyed myself while making music, and that my friends, is a BAD place to be.

This summer I started collaborating with Mafoo on a musical called The Little Death. We’re still busting ass on it. Collaborating with a loved one is intense, but it’s proven to be incredibly meaningful and fulfilling. It was the first time I had approached singing from a creative place, and not from the educated and historically informed place. I can’t tell you how liberating it was to sing, and not think about technique… and technically it kind of freed me a little bit…

This musical opened the doors for a lot of other things too. I began messing around with electronics, and am now performing in three electronic operas. Talking about the theatrical element of The Little Death led the way to Ensemble de Sade stuff, which I’ve already posted about many times over.

K, I’ll sum up. I’ve written about my son Jack, who is four and fucking brilliant. He is by far the most important part of my life. If I were this age and not a Mommy, I’d be cool with eating apples and oatmeal and waiting for the checks in the mail, but at this point, I’ve come to the realization that my life is so incredibly not about me right now, and so the compromise that I’m making is taking on a real day job in order to pay the bills, save up for a brighter future and all that, and take the gigs that I want to take, that feed me spiritually and musically, and not just financially.

This is the moment that I realize that this post was more for me and not for you… Good for you if you’re still reading!

Oh yeah, and the day that I was offered the job at DC Comics, literally an hour after I got off the phone with HR, I was offered a whole bunch of concerts with the ensemble NEWSPEAK. That’s one of those gigs I’m gonna say yes to, and I’m totally psyched for those concerts. How’s that for a little karmic yummy for the crunchy ???

I’ve already said enough. Here’s to a great 2008 everyone. Cheers.