Boy on a bicycle | Debra Weber, Courtesy of UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center La Raza AB s9

First Person: Director Charlie Otte on 'Vireo'

Witches. Wisdom. Wonder. Vireo is an opera created for TV and online broadcast that considers the usage of "female hysteria" throughout the decades. The multi-episode production was composed by Lisa Bielawa on a libretto by Erik Ehn and directed by Charles Otte. "Vireo" is the winner of the 2015 ASCAP Foundation Deems Taylor/Virgil Thomson Multimedia Award.

Charlie Otte is a creative director who works in multi-media theater, opera, music. For Vireo, he directed the filming of the live performance, which was staged at the Yost Theater in Santa Ana.

Artbound recently caught up with Otte, who discussed the intricacies of producing an opera for the screen.

On how he became involved with "Vireo"

Lisa Bielawa and I have known each other since the early 1990's when we met on a production of "Einstein on a Beach," which was directed by Robert Wilson and with music by Philip Glass. We've been on tour together. And during the last tour of "Einstein," she and I were talking about doing new music and figuring out a way that would be wonderful to get a production of hers up and running. And during that conversation on the bus, we were thinking, "How could you get these things produced?" We thought "maybe we should do what we're doing now. Let's not try and produce a whole 2 1/2 hour opera on a stage, but rather let's break it into pieces, let's have it be episodic, and let's find a new medium. Let's stream it." Our initial thought was "let's shoot it really cheaply and let's stream it so that people could essentially hear it."

In its early stages, it was more like a concert in some ways. And we were lucky enough that John Spiak down at the GCAC became interested in producing this. Once John became interested, our vision grew and I would say at a certain level, I started pushing things along further than anybody maybe thought they were going to go. I don't think that John and Lisa thought that we would have quite the size of production that we had, but once we started down that road we also realized we had a lot of resources here in L.A. that we could contribute to making a really viable artistic production that was more than just simply a concert version, or more than simply than a live version but really had artistic merit as a piece of media.

For instance, some of the ideas that I had been talking about with Lisa, and trying to bring to this project, is the idea that since Vireo exists in time in a number of different centuries that it would be great through the use of video and media that we could actually show that. We don't necessarily have to be constrained by the fact that you can't in a live performance run off stage and change a costume. But really, the actual media itself reflects some of the inner turmoil that she is experiencing through how were going to shoot it and edit it. And also it reflects the fact that she lives in three different centuries. So those are almost all things that would be accomplished in a different way, in a purely live performance. But the fact that were able to shoot it, means that we can use that in a creative way as a piece of art and make something new out of the piece as opposed to say what might happen at the production where you are basically recording it.

We are hoping to continue to finish this and really probably do it in 12 episodes. So we have 10 more to go. Lisa and Eric [Ehn] have been able to break down the script and where the dividing points are and how to accomplish all this.

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La Raza

In East Los Angeles during the late 1960s and 1970s, a group of young activists used creative tools like writing and photography as a means for community organizing, providing a platform for the Chicano Movement in the form of the bilingual newspaper/magazine La Raza. In the process, the young activists became artists themselves and articulated a visual language that shed light on the daily life, concerns and struggles of the Mexican-American experience in Southern California and provided a voice to the Chicano Rights Movement.

  • 2018-09-22T09:00:00-07:00
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