Thoroughbred Soprano Sasha Lazard
Stock divas, brown pop princesses, assorted starlets and vamps who have yet to bleed are everywhere. Obviously. From the world's food courts they come, singly or in clots of twos and threes, borne from the bazaars of Dungalore, the malls of East California, the streets of South Detroit. It's an infestation. But where have all the sirens gone? Now there's a woman who could sing a galleon right into the rocks. When was the last time I gazed upon a vocalist and had that thought?
Actually, the last time was only a few evenings ago, at Sasha Lazard's party celebrating the release of her debut CD The Myth of Red (Omtown/Virgin). This woman ain't no torchy diva, even though she's got the chanteuse-y looks: the Revlon face, the freeway blonde hair, the severe pelvic cant and a lithe, predatory body that would make any broad go crying to a Pilates teacher. But there's nothing breathy or smoked-out about Lazard's thoroughbred soprano. She was trained at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and she has toured Europe with chamber orchestras and opera companies. At Carnegie Hall's production of The Goddess of the Hunt she played Diana, bien sur. Lazard grew up in New York and Paris, and she was schooled at Bennington in Vermont. When Lazard and I speak on the phone a few days after her brief performance at the party, she will tell me that she has been to the Hot Dog Ranch, a now-condemned alkie bar/wiener joint in my sort-of hometown of Pittsfield, MA, which is 30 minutes south of Bennington. Perhaps she has even eaten a Ranch hotdog and washed it back with Fleischmann's whiskey, the house rotgut. Perhaps not. Either way, she scores major points with me.
Don't get to thinking that The Myth of Red (or Lazard's sound, for that matter) is substantial though, because it isn't. Red takes opera standards and Russian folk songs and backs them with brisk, facile and seductive electronica rhythms. This kind of thing goes over very well at fashion shows; in fact, she performed at Anand Jon's spring 2000 runway show, and in the near future she'll be singing at events for Henri Bendel and Ferragamo. Her "Awakening" pits Rachmaninoff against a beat that won't spill your cosmo, and it's a no-brainer that the song made the Billboard top five Hot Dance Breakouts list at the end of April. Easy on the ears, easy on the eyes and completely unchallenging. I'm all for it.
Although her cultural mish-mashing isn't an entirely new concept?I mean, Sarah Brightman gave Kansas' timeless "Dust in the Wind" the velvet treatment in 1998, and that CD Aria a few years ago electronica-ized Puccini, Verdi, et al.?there's something unique about Lazard's pearly sound. So unique, in fact, that I spend a lot of time trying to put a name on it. Popera? Beatbox aria?
"Oh, I like that last one," she says. She's sitting on a stool backstage, a big plate of salad balanced on her lap, her eyelids heavy with many lashes. It's about 30 minutes before showtime. A makeup artist is applying foundation one pore at a time, and somehow Lazard can patiently train one big eye down at me and keep the other one closed against the makeup brush. The little kids who are going to be performing with her on "Ode to Innocence" ("Ave Maria" meets reggae-lite) are starting to run amok, and Lazard shushes them with a startling hey! hey! hey! that is surprisingly un-operalike. "I've always had more of a rock 'n' roll personality, but I am very much in the classical world," Lazard will tell me later.
"I didn't expect you to sound as earthy."
"Did you expect me to have a squeeeeeaky voice? When I was at the Conservatory my teacher sent me to a voice therapist who tried to make my speaking voice higher. You sit on your throat when you speak so low. So I went around for weeks going, 'Memememe my mind is my owwnnnn!' But there was nothing I could do about it." She has cracked a note only once in performance, and that was during a smoky gig at the Cutting Room. Not bad, for a classically trained singer who has recently gone from fire curtains and reverential audiences to hellholes like Don Hill's and Ibiza's Privilege. "It freaked me out," Lazard said of the cracked-note experience. "I hadn't had a drink in months. And there I was breathing in all that smoke. I can't be the rock 'n' roll chick swigging down whiskey. I have to take care of myself. The rock lifestyle and the opera lifestyle are very different."
?I have two words for you: nipples. When Lazard takes the small stage at the Park, the tips of her perky breasts are front and center, straining against the slippery red shard she is sort of wearing. It's hard to get past this nipple thing, even though the stage is packed with an electric cellist, a percussionist, a backup singer, jostling kids, two perspiring female dancers overexerting themselves in white ripped Kleenex dresses and so on. It's crowded and busy up there (and it's crowded and busy in the audience too: a frail and tiny Norman Mailer is lodged in one of the rose-petal-strewn banquettes, and everyone is not noticing), but finally Lazard's nipple thing is upstaged by Lazard's voice, which swoons clear and true, even above the shoop shoop shoop of the club beat. Lazard is in her element; moist-eyed, seductive, moving very slowly in the whirlwind of activity. Lazard will say later she is "flattered" that she is sexually appealing to both men and women. She is not flattered, however, when I call her music "a new kind of easy listening."
She sidles a glance down at me through the makeup artist's hand. "I'm not mad about the term 'easy listening'?" She phrases this as a question, which is very Benningtonian. "But I wouldn't be devastated if I was on Lite FM?"
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