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'Vireo' in the News

Lisa Bielawa is the composer of "Vireo." | Photo: Matt Gush
Photo: Matt Gush

Two decades in the making comes the highly anticipated release of Vireo: The Spiritual Biography of a Witch's Accuser. Follow the news and media coverage and reviews, as we lead into the launch this Spring.

Grand Central Art's 'Vireo' is an Arts Entrepreneurship Awards Honoree

Orange County Register, April 3, 2017

Serial broadcast opera “Vireo: The Spiritual Biography of a Witch's Accuser,” an artist residency project of Cal State Fullerton’s Grand Central Art Center, is one of five honorees chosen this year for an Arts Entrepreneurship Award by Fractured Atlas. 

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Vireo: A New Opera for the Ages featuring Bay Area Vocalists

Santa Clara Weekly, February 2017

Vireo creator, Lisa Bielawa, a native San Franciscan, had the opportunity to use locations in the bay area as the backdrop for vireo production. Santa Clara Times fills us in: 

And since the filming for the 12 episodes takes place in both New York and California locations, it made sense that Bielawa–a native San Franciscan and the artistic director for the San Francisco Girls Chorus–would invite Californians to collaborate. She found a Santa Clara County native Christina English in Boston’s innovative Lorelei Ensemble, a nine women vocal group that performs in Vireo’s Episode 11. It was also a unique experience for Bielawa to film this project: “Episodes nine-12 are filmed in Northern California–there was a range of locations–Alcatraz, Redwoods, and abandoned train stations.” The Lorelei Ensemble filmed at that abandoned train station–a spot in Oakland that was cold, damp, and, as English mentioned, had no electricity. 

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Women Are Making Opera. And It’s Not Easy

The New York Times, December 24, 2016

"Vireo" composer Lisa Bielawa was featured in the New York Times yesterday. Bielawa, along with nine other women who are immersed in the opera world, was asked to share her sentiments on the gender disparity in the artform and "what it means to be a woman creating opera today."

Bielawa told the New York Times: "The key is self care. I’m really interested in joy, in thriving musical communities, in creating work that is vital for both women and men. To work well, I’ve needed to find ways pretty much not to tell myself the story of myself knocking at doors and having them not open. Female readers have always been very adept at identifying with iconic male protagonists in the stories that we read, because those protagonists are designed to represent the human condition. Female roles in opera should be able to inspire that same kind of identification. You should be able to see “Vireo” and feel that tug: This is about the human condition. This is healing my basic human wound. That’s what we want in opera, right? Not to tell a historically specific women’s story. The topicality of it is not really the compelling thing; it’s not the operatic thing."

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An Opera for the Netflix Generation, Filmed on Alcatraz

KQED, July 1, 2016

The "Vireo" production officially went national last week as our L.A.-based crew joined forces with new team members in San Francisco. We had an incredible experience on the historic Alcatraz Island and wanted to share some highlights and photos with you, as well as offer our enormous thanks for helping to make an ambitious shoot like this possible.

We were delighted to have KQED's Charlise Tiee join us on the island and soak up everything that goes on during a "Vireo" shoot. Last week she published this terrific, in-depth feature article about the opera.

Read the full article 

Filming "Vireo" in Alcatraz. Photo: David Soderlund
Photo: David Soderlund

The World’s First Streamable, Binge-Watchable Opera Is Being Made in L.A. 

LA Weekly, May 24, 2016

Vireo, a serialized made-for-internet opera, has made serious waves as a modern day opera for the modern day viewer. Besides its form as a 12 mini binge-worthy episodes, it pushes boundaries by centering on a strong female lead who grapples with hysteria and the resulting mistreatment. The LA weekly catches up with Lisa Bielawa, the composer and creator of Vireo, and gets insight on what inspired this experimental opera.

According to the published article: As a graduate student at Yale in the 1990s, Lisa Bielawa became fascinated by stories of young women across history who experienced hysterical fits and the men who consistently spoke on their behalf. The stories are eerily consistent: A young woman in the 14th, 16th, 18th or 20th century has a transcendent, visionary experience and powerful men around her — usually priests or doctors — try to explain what is happening. "I encountered this rash of young girls caught up in these stories involving various men and communities of men who were fascinated by their visionary experiences,” Bielawa explains. “It was so weird to find this phenomenon rearticulated over and over again throughout history.”  

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How Southern California Became the Backdrop to an Opera About a 'Hysterical' Woman 

News Coverage: LA Times

The Los Angeles Times, May 7, 2016

"Vireo" was featured in the Los Angeles Times this past weekend. Journalist Carolina A. Miranda, who visited the Episode 5 shoot in January, wrote this wonderful piece about our episodic opera. She interviewed director Charles Otte, librettist Erik Ehn, soprano Rowen Sabala, Grand Central Art Center Director John Spiak, and me, and I love some of the quotes she used.

"There's a massive potential for disaster," says Otte. "But somehow we all know we are going to pull it off."

"We are not agenda driven," says GCAC director John Spiak. "It's about realizing an artist's creative vision."
And I told Carolina, "My terror index has gone down steadily. But you don't want it to go too far. I like to operate at the limits of my skill set."

Read the full article

More Mentions in the News!

LA Weekly, December 30, 2016Why the World Started Paying Attention to L.A.'s Modern Opera Scene in 2016 

I Care If You Listen Magazine, June 2015: Vireo

Opera News, April 2015: Opera Watch

range Coast Magazine, Serial Composer Lisa Bielawa 

International Arts Manager, March 2015: New Serial Opera to be Broadcast Online  

Opera American Magazine, Spring 2015: Opera on Demand

Schmopera, May 29, 2016Great Ideas: A Streamable Opera Miniseries

Playbill Feature, May 9, 2016New Opera Will Be Available Online in Short Episodes  

San Francisco Classical Voice, December 8, 2015Lisa Bielawa's Vireo wins 2015 ASCAP Multimedia Award

Classicalite, Dec 5, 2014Composer Lisa Bielawa Offers New Opera in Installments - Is this the Future of Opera

Filming "Vireo" in Alcatraz. Photo: David Soderlund
Photo: David Soderlund

Production Notes

"Vireo" Shoot in Alcatraz

Director Charlie Otte and director of photography Greg Cotten pulled off masterful shots, culminating in their signature single 12-minute take, and captured stunning footage to and from the island with the full majesty of Alcatraz in view, all with the help of the expert crew.

Cast members were soprano Rowen Sabala as Vireo, soprano Emma MacKenzie as Caroline, and baritone Gregory Purnhagen as The Priest/Doctor. Guest musicians were NY-based "contemporary music dynamos" (NPR) American Contemporary Music Ensemble (ACME), a sextet of superb singers from Cappella SF, a handful of volunteer ringers from Handbell Ventures, and Randy Matamoros, who provided stirring sounds from his hurdy-gurdy. Our entire cast got in costume back on shore (so we could shoot on the boat). "Vireo" characters and tourists mingling together proved to be an amusing sight.

I was floored by how breathtaking Rowen's performance of her aria "The Bat" sounded in the Alcatraz cell. This was the very first scene that librettist Erik Ehn and I sketched for "Vireo," more than 20 years ago, so it was very moving for me to hear it in such a profound setting.

It was also great to have ACME as musicians for this shoot, since they were in fact the first group ever to perform music from "Vireo" during my residency at The Stone in 2014.

The beautiful acoustics of the well-worn walls inside Alcatraz also added to the incredible performance of Cappella SF as lamenting prisoners, who accompanied baritone Gregory Purnhagen's searching aria.

This was our first shoot outside L.A., resulting in a mashup of veteran team members from L.A. and new faces from San Francisco, including SF Production Manager Lori Halloran, First Assistant Director (with deep Alcatraz expertise) Cara Miller, and our fearless new Bay Area Producer Marnie Burke de Guzman. The way everyone worked together was fluid, respectful, intense, and all-around astonishing!

We cannot WAIT to show you the footage and performances for Episode 9 when it's released on KCET in spring 2017. Until then, "Vireo" moves east to shoot our next episodes in the New York area this September!

See all our photos from Episode 9 on Alcatraz Island

"Vireo" Receives Support! 

Last week, we were named one of 60 projects to receive generous grants by New Music USA. Today, I am delighted to announce that I have been awarded a Fellowship in the category of Music and Sound from the New York Foundation for the Arts. "Vireo" is made possible through the support of donors like you, and awards like these. To those who wish to join them in their show of support, we thank you in advance too!

Shoot for Episode 7, "Dismal Pure Inane"

Shooting for Episode 7 is just around the corner, and we are opening our doors to a small public audience to view the production. The public session takes place May 15, 4:30-6:00 p.m., at a studio in Downtown L.A. 

Emma MacKenzie, a talented young soprano from the San Francisco Girls Chorus, will perform for the first time in the role of our newest character, Caroline, who is Vireo's mysterious twin sister and makes all kinds of trouble. In addition to the core cast, Episode 7 features the virtuosic PRISM Saxophone Quartet and PARTCH, an L.A.-based ensemble featuring the eccentric microtonal instruments created by Northern California icon, outsider artist and composer/instrument builder, Harry Partch.

"Vireo" release set for spring 2017

We are delighted to announce that in spring 2017, KCET will release the entire "Vireo" season all at once for free, on-demand streaming — a first for the network! In the meantime, we are looking forward to continuing production with amazing cast, production team, and musicians across the country.

 

*This article is updated regularly.

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