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Vireo: Q&A with Mezzo-soprano Maria Lazarova

Maria Lazarova in "Vireo." Photo by Joe Fanzu.
Photo: Joe Fanzu

Vireo, the groundbreaking made-for-TV opera, is now available for streaming. Watch the 12 full episodes and dive into the world of Vireo through librettos, essays and production notes. Find more bonus content on KCET.org and LinkTV.org.

Mezzo-soprano Maria Lazarova plays the role of The Mother in "Vireo: The Spiritual Biography of a Witches Accuser." Maria is the director of the Orange County School of the Arts Classical Voice Conservatory, whose students played a role in Vireo's first two episodes. Maria was kind enough to answer these questions about her character and experience performing in "Vireo."

Q&A with Maria Lazarova

Vireo: Your character is passionate in defense of her daughter, Vireo, but is also somewhat blind to what's really going on. In what ways do you find yourself relating, and not relating, to this character? Is this kind of character one you see in the real world?

Maria Lazarova: Although it may be easy to dismiss Vireo’s mother as being out-of-touch or blind to her daughter’s needs, I think that parents often love their children so much that they cannot discern their needs clearly. This is especially true for parents whose children are ill. The stress of having a daughter with such and unusual “illness” paralyzes Vireo’s mother with fear and causes her to seek help from those in positions of authority. I think the mother’s actions should also be taken in context of the different centuries covered in the time travel aspect of the opera. Although this can also be true for the present time, in the 16th and 19th centuries, one could easily understand a woman seeking help from the learned or religious men of her time.

V: You have been in many operas and have a long list of productions to your name. How has "Vireo" been different to these in terms of how you approach the performance?

ML: The opera is different in every way from other productions in which I have participated. First, singing for the camera on a film set changes the direction of vocal and theatrical energy one uses as compared to live, theatre performance. Under usual circumstances, all vocal energy must go towards the audience. Operatic performance practice focuses foremost on the vocal instrument and how a live audience member experiences that sound. Secondary to sound, is the theatrical elements, which is no different from other live theatre performances. Since "Vireo" was originally composed for film, the energy is directed towards the immediate surrounding. This was a big adjustment for me. The score is also written for lighter instrumentation, rather than a full orchestra, as is the norm in traditional opera. At times, due to camera angles and the director’s vision, the singers were separated from the instrumentalists and each other. At one point, we were even in separate rooms – this was a definite aural adjustment.

Q&A with Maria Lazarova

V: What is your approach to learning the music before going into the studio to film?

ML: For me, the learning process for "Vireo" was exactly the same as for any other piece of new music I take on. First, I begin with the text – the text informs all aspects of the delivery. Once I can absorb the text verbally and dramatically, I move to putting the text with the rhythm. The third step is combining the text, rhythm and melody (this also includes harmony.) During this process, I am constantly attempting different approach to the vocal technique to find what works best for each phrase. 

V: On set, where do you think your clearest musical direction comes from? The director Charlie? Lisa? The other actors? Or perhaps the music itself?

ML: Although I think that Charlie, the other actors and the music itself all contribute to the direction, the greatest musical informant is Lisa. This is her baby and was born out of her creative musical mind (in collaboration with Erik Ehn, the librettist, of course). She helps us understand the trajectory of each scene and how it fits into the opera as a whole – musically and dramatically. Like any fine composer, Lisa has thought through all aspects of the story and character and translates this into musical elements. Her direction and vision is invaluable to our understanding and ability to actualize these characters.  

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