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Vireo: Q&A with Soprano Emma MacKenzie

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.

Soprano Emma MacKenzie is a member of the esteemed San Francisco Girls Chorus and recently stepped into the main cast of Vireo, playing Vireo's mysterious twin Caroline, who shows up in Episode 6 and causes all sorts of trouble. Emma talked to us about her experience on the set of "Vireo" and what it's been like to transition into a bigger role in the opera.

Q&A with soprano Emma MacKenzie

Vireo: You have been involved in "Vireo" from the first shoot, playing a Forest Woman with fellow members of the San Francisco Girls Chorus in Episodes 1 and 4, and a Milkmaid in Episode 5, but Episode 6 was your first time in the role of Caroline. Can you talk about what this transition — from chorus member to main character. What was it like for you?

Emma MacKenzie: It was a big leap for me to extend myself from a choral setting to a soloist role. I felt as if there was a lot more expected of me, both musically and professionally. I also had to get used to standing and singing alone, without others to back me up in my part. I worked a lot with my voice teacher on my acting and stage presence, as well as the vocal strength and technique needed to be a soloist.

V: Caroline is Vireo's mysterious twin, who makes all sorts of trouble upon her arrival in Episode 6. Can you expand a little bit on who your character is, her role in the story, and the ways you went about portraying her?

EM: Charlie and I have decided that Caroline is essentially the darker side of Vireo’s personality. She appears throughout the opera to influence Vireo’s decisions, and also tries to use Vireo’s accusation skills to gain more power in society. To further the idea of a split-personality situation, our brilliant costume designer, Christina Wright, created my clothes to look exactly like Vireo’s, except in shades of black and gray. I’ve also personally been portraying her character by working on my acting skills.

V: You are an accomplished singer with years of experience in the San Francisco Girls Chorus, but this was your first time acting for an onscreen role. Can you talk about your perspective of the acting process? What was it like working with Charles Otte?

Q&A with soprano Emma MacKenzie

EM: Charlie is an amazing director; he has really helped me to embody the cunning and power-hungry character of Caroline. Caroline and I are very different, so in the beginning it was challenging for me to fully embrace her personality. Now, however, I just think about specific moments in my life where I have felt manipulative or ambitious, and that helps a lot. Seeing the growth in my expressions episode to episode has also motivated me to further get into character and improve my acting.

V: Can you talk about the relationship that has formed between you, Rowen Sabala (who plays Vireo), and Ryan Glover (who plays Raphael) while shooting "Vireo"? In what ways were you able to support and encourage one another?

EM: Rowen and I have grown a lot closer over the past few shoots, especially since we spend shoots at each others’ houses, and Ryan is an extremely talented and warm person to have on set. We are all really supportive of each other in learning, singing, and performing the music. As the youngest cast member, it was difficult at first for me to adjust to a new environment, but the entire crew has been super welcoming and has made me feel right at home.

V: What was the most challenging aspect of the shoot? What was the most enjoyable?

EM: The hardest part of filming episode 6 was during the scene when Vireo and I first meet. Charlie asked me to jump onto a rope swing at the very end of the scene, while at the same time I was wearing three petticoats and singing a high A!

My favorite part of this shoot was the third scene of episode 8, which is the farmer’s aria. Hearing all the musicians come together was so incredible and much better than any rehearsal we had. The music of that section is also extremely beautiful, so I had a lot of fun just listening and being a part of that. 

V: When all twelve episodes of "Vireo" are released in spring 2017, what parts from Episodes 6–9 will you be most curious, nervous, or excited to see?

EM: I think I’m most looking forward to seeing the first scene of episode 8. Caroline is really in her element here as she leads Vireo and Raphael to a well to see a dead girl. This part felt so powerful for me to sing, and the outdoor setting combined with the magnificent music only highlighted that feeling.

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