Announcing Vireo: The Spiritual Biography of a Witch’s Accuser

A Serial Opera for Episodic Broadcast Online & on TV

Lisa Bielawa, Composer & Producer
Charlie Otte, Director
Erik Ehn, Librettist

Pilot Episode to be taped February 23 & 24, 2015
The Yost Theater | Santa Ana, CA

Broadcast in Partnership with KCETLink’s Artbound

An Artist Residency Project of Grand Central Art Center, California State University, Fullerton

Santa Ana, CA – On February 23 and 24, 2015, the pilot episode of composer Lisa Bielawa’s serial opera Vireo: The Spiritual Biography of a Witch’s Accuser will be videotaped at The Yost Theater in Santa Ana. Vireo is a new opera composed by Bielawa on a libretto by Erik Ehn and directed by Charlie Otte, which is unprecedented in that it is being created expressly for episodic release via broadcast and online media. Through a partnership with KCETLink, the national independent, non-profit digital and broadcast network, the unique multimedia initiative will include online articles and videos showcasing the production’s creative process, as well as a television special presented by Artbound, KCETLink’s Emmy ® award-winning arts and culture series. Vireo is an artist residency project of Grand Central Art Center (GCAC) in Santa Ana, an outgrowth of Cal State Fullerton, Director/Chief Curator John Spiak.

Vireo’s 25-minute pilot episode, to be taped in February for broadcast in spring 2015, will feature the Kronos Quartet, mezzo-soprano Laurie Rubin, the San Francisco Girls Chorus, the Orange County School of the Arts Middle School choir, mezzo-soprano Maria Lazarova, baritone Gregory Purnhagen, drummer Matthias Bossi, and in the title role of Vireo, 16-year-old soprano Rowen Sabala. It will be staged and filmed throughout the entirety of The Yost Theater, making use of the 650-seat capacity vaudeville theater’s house, balconies, stage, lobby, and backstage areas. The taping will be open to the public. Information on how to make reservations will be announced in early January 2015. The taping of the pilot episode of Vireo is made possible in part with support from The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.

Vireo: The Spiritual Biography of a Witch’s Accuser is an opera that considers the nature and uses of female hysteria through time, as witch-hunters, early psychiatrists, and modern artists variously define the condition. Based on composer Bielawa’s own research at Yale as a Literature major, then freely adapted and re-imagined by librettist Ehn, Vireo is a composite history of the way in which teenage-girl visionaries’ writings and rantings have been manipulated, incorporated, and interpreted by the communities of men surrounding them throughout history, from the European Dark Ages, to Salem Massachusettes, 19th-century France, the Surrealists in Paris, and contemporary performance art. Featuring arias for dying cows, infatuated students, disembodied ageless women, and a mysterious twin of Vireo herself, the opera provides a thoughtful, and sometimes humorous look at the universal issues of gender identity, perception, and reality.

Innovating opera not only through content but through form, Vireo allows greater access of opera to a broader audience, through mainstream media and contemporary delivery systems. The piece considers authoritarian responses to independent, inspired imaginations, especially as they abide in young women. It scrutinizes the representation of women both in the historical form of opera and in modern media.

Future episodes of Vireo will be taped at other venues throughout the country, with a wide variety of presenting partners and performers. Episodes will broadcast on KCETLink’s Artbound, accompanied by online editorial content. Vireo is produced by Lisa Bielawa, Anne Marie Gillen, Ilain Kennedy, and Juan Devis; production design is by Richard Hoover and Meghan Rogers; lighting design is by John Torres; sound design is by Dan Dryden; costume design is by Christina Wright.

About the Artists & Partners:

Lisa Bielawa, Composer: Composer-vocalist Lisa Bielawa is a 2009 Rome Prize winner in Musical Composition. She takes inspiration for her work from literary sources and close artistic collaborations. She began touring with the Philip Glass Ensemble in 1992, and in 1997 co-founded the MATA Festival. Bielawa was appointed Artistic Director of the San Francisco Girls Chorus in 2013. Lisa Bielawa’s music is frequently performed throughout the US and Europe. Recent highlights include a Radio France commission for Ensemble Variances, a piece for Finnish male choir Akademiska Sångföreningen based on a text from Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra. Both works featured Bielawa as the vocal soloist. Other highlights include the world premieres of Rondolette by Brooklyn Rider and pianist Bruce Levingston, Double Duet by the Washington Saxophone Quartet, Graffiti dell’amante with the Chicago Chamber Musicians, The Project of Collecting Clouds in Seattle by cellist Joshua Roman and chamber ensemble, Double Violin Concerto and In medias res by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, The Right Weather by American Composers Orchestra at Carnegie Hall, and The Lay of the Love and Death at Lincoln Center. Bielawa’s work Chance Encounter was premiered by soprano Susan Narucki and The Knights in Manhattan's Seward Park and performed in Rome, Vancouver, Venice, and at the Whitney Museum. Bielawa’s most recent project Airfield Broadcasts is a 60-minute work for hundreds of musicians that was premiered on the tarmac of the former Tempelhof Airport in Berlin in May 2013 and at Crissy Field in San Francisco in October 2013. www.lisabielawa.net

Erik Ehn, Librettist: Erik Ehn’s work includes The Saint Plays, No Time Like the Present, Wolf at the Door, Tailings, Beginner, and Ideas of Good and Evil. The Soulographie project is a series of 17 plays written over 20 years on the history of the US in the 20th century from the point of view of its genocides, and was produced at La MaMa in New York in November 2012. Soulographie scripts include Maria Kizito, Heavenly Shades of Night are Falling, Yermedea, Drunk Still Drinking. Ehn is Artistic Director of the Tenderloin Opera Company in Providence, RI, which generates new works of music-theater by, for, and about people who are homeless or who are homeless advocates. He is also Artistic Associate of the Theatre of Yugen in San Francisco. Ehn is a graduate of New Dramatists and current Chair and Director of Writing for Performance at Brown University.

Charlie Otte, Director: Charles Otte is a multi-media director/designer whose work crosses multiple platforms. He is currently a senior creative director with Thinkwell Group in Los Angeles.  An MFA graduate of USC film school, he received the John Huston award for directing excellence and recently founded and headed the Integrated Media design program for theatre at the University of Texas at Austin.  His productions have been seen at BAM, Lincoln Center, Seville Opera, LA Opera, Carnegie Hall, Ohio Theatre, the Sundance Institute, Odyssey Theatre, Open Fist Theatre, Stella Adler Theatre, A&E TV, HDTV, and Universal Studios Hollywood, and can currently be seen at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, The Texas State History Museum, Universal Studios Singapore, Lotte World, the Louisiana State Capitol Museum and others.  Otte produced the CD-ROM game, Monty Python and the Quest for the Holy Grail. Select theatre productions include Bulgakhov’s Flight, This is a Test, Travesties, Threepenny Opera, The Dead, Goose and Tomtom, La Belle et La Bete, and new plays by Francis Cowhig, Kimber Lee, Steven Haworth, Rick Pagano, Steven Dietz, and John Bishop. Otte was recently Directing Associate for the world tour of Einstein on the Beach and The Old Woman. He is honored to be working with the amazing artists involved with Vireo. He plays the violin and is married to Christine Sang.

Rowen Avery Sabala, Vireo: Rowen Sabala is a Junior (16 years old, Soprano) at the prestigious Orange County School of the Arts (OCSA) in Santa Ana, California where she is studying Opera in the Classical Voice Conservatory under the direction of Dr. Maria Lazarova. Since she was just 5 years old, Rowen has been singing, dancing and acting in various school and community groups. She has had numerous roles in musicals as a cast member of the elite Fullerton Children’s Repertory Theatre and the Yorba Linda Spotlight Theater. She has also studied acting at the South Coast Repertory Theater in Costa Mesa, California. At OCSA, Rowen currently sings Soprano in the Bel Conto and Chamber Singer choirs. Rowen has a musical heritage; her paternal grandmother (‘50’s Rock and Roll) and great-grandmother (‘40’s Big Bands vocalist) were both professional singers. After high school, Rowen aspires to continue her classical voice studies in Europe and to sing opera professionally. 

Laurie Rubin, Voice/Witch: The New York Times has praised mezzo-soprano Laurie Rubin's “compelling  artistry,” “communicative power,” and the “earthy, rich, and poignant qualities” of her voice. The Los Angeles Times described her as “a young mezzo-soprano whose voice is darkly complex and mysteriously soulful and who adds intense emphasis to every word of text.” Rubin has performed with the likes of conductor John Williams and opera star Frederica von Stade. She has given concerts at London's Wigmore Hall, The Kennedy Center, the Lincoln Center and the White House, among others, presenting concert programs that tell her unique story through music. Her album Do You Dream In Color? coincides with her memoir of the same name, published in 2012 by Seven Stories Press. The title track of the album, co-written by Rubin and composer Bruce Adolphe, was premiered in its orchestral version in a performance Rubin gave at the International Human Rights Conference in Lucerne Switzerland, and in a performance Rubin gave with the LA Chamber Orchestra. Rubin is co-founder and Associate Artistic Director of Ohana Arts. In 2013, she embarked on an extensive North American concert and book tour. She and composer/producer, Jennifer Taira branded as the pop duo, PureLand, and their first single and music video, “The Girl I Am” was released in March 2014.

Gregory Purnhagen, The Doctor: Gregory Purnhagen enjoys an eclectic career that crosses diverse eras and genres. He has premiered roles in projects for Philip Glass (La Belle et la Bete, Monsters of Grace, Galileo Galilei); sung as a soloist at Carnegie Hall, Alice Tully Hall, Weill Recital Hall and other major international venues; created award winning cabaret shows in New York, most notably Babalu-cy! The Art of Desi Arnaz; has recorded Early Music, New Music, cast albums and appeared as a guest vocalist on Bjork’s Medulla. His work in contemporary opera has included projects for Nick Brooke, Yoav Gal, Fred Ho and Michael Kowalski. A veteran of the 1992 revival of “Einstein on the Beach,” he also performed in the recent 2012-2014 revival. He gave the American premiere of Mr. Glass’s “Songs of Milarepa” at The Town Hall last autumn. He is also the conductor of The New Xavier Cugat Orchestra, which is introducing vibrant, historic Latin music to new audiences.

Maria Lazarova, Mother & Director of the Orange County School of the Arts Classical Voice Conservatory: Maria Lazarova, mezzo-soprano, earned a Bachelor of Music degree with a concentration in opera performance from Cal State University, Long Beach, and a Master of Music degree and Doctorate of Musical Arts degree with a concentration in vocal performance, music education, stage directing, and jazz studies from the University of Southern California. Lazarova has over fifteen years of performance experience as a soloist in opera, recitals, as well as chamber and choral works. She has performed as a soloist at numerous venues including the Orange County Performing Arts Center, Irvine Bowl, Barclay Theatre, Carpenter Performing Arts Center, Ahmanson Theatre, and the Hollywood Bowl. Her solo opera repertoire includes roles in Don Giovanni, Cendrillon, Dido and Aeneas, La Calisto, The Medium, Turandot, Abduction from the Seraglio, Madame Butterfly, and Dead Man Walking. Awards in competitions and scholarships include the Marilyn Horn Scholarship, International Liszt Competition, Long Beach Mozart Festival Vocal Competition, the Brentwood/Westwood Symphony Orchestra Competition, and the Young Musicians Foundation Solo Competition. At the Orange County School of the Arts, Lazarova serves as the Director of the Classical Voice Conservatory and she is a member of the Voice Faculty at the Bob Cole Conservatory of Music on the campus of Cal State University, Long Beach.

Matthias Bossi, drummer: Drummer/composer Matthias Bossi was a member of seminal bands Skeleton Key, Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, and Fred Frith's Cosa Brava. As a founder of the recording collective The Book Of Knots, he has had the pleasure of collaborating with Mike Patton, Blixa Bargeld, Tom Waits, Mike Watt, David Thomas, and Jon Langford. Studio credits include records with John Vanderslice, St. Vincent, Pretty Lights and The Tiger Lillies. His production company Ridiculon has written soundtracks for the best-selling video game The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth and soon to be released Super Meat Boy: Forever. As an actor, Bossi has worked with the Shotgun Players, Pickle Family Circus, and action theatre pioneers Erika Shuch and Joe Goode. His voiceover work can be heard on the sensational Little Baby’s Ice Cream commercials, and also for an upcoming guided tour of Golden Gate Park produced by San Francisco-based Detour.

Kronos Quartet: For more than 40 years, San Francisco’s Kronos Quartet – David Harrington (violin), John Sherba (violin), Hank Dutt (viola), and Sunny Yang (cello) – has combined a spirit of fearless exploration with a commitment to continually re-imagining the string quartet experience. In the process, Kronos has become one of the world’s most celebrated and influential ensembles, performing thousands of concerts worldwide, releasing more than 50 recordings, collaborating with many of the world’s most intriguing and accomplished composers and performers, and commissioning more than 800 works and arrangements for string quartet. A Grammy winner, Kronos is also the only recipient of both the Polar Music Prize and the Avery Fisher Prize. Integral to Kronos’ work is a series of long-running, in-depth collaborations with many of the world’s foremost composers, including Americans Terry Riley, Philip Glass, and Steve Reich; Azerbaijan’s Franghiz Ali-Zadeh; Poland’s Henryk Górecki; and Serbia’s Aleksandra Vrebalov. Additional collaborators in concert and/or on disc have included Chinese pipa virtuoso Wu Man, performance artist Laurie Anderson, Azeri vocalist Alim Qasimov, iconic Bollywood “playback singer” Asha Bhosle, Inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq, Beatles legend Paul McCartney, and rockers Tom Waits, Amon Tobin, and The National. The quartet spends five months per year on tour, appearing in the world’s most prestigious concert halls, clubs, and festivals. Kronos is equally prolific and wide-ranging on recordings, including Pieces of Africa (1992), a showcase of African-born composers that simultaneously topped Billboard’s Classical and World Music lists; Nuevo (2002), a Grammy- and Latin Grammy–nominated celebration of Mexican culture; and the 2004 Grammy-winner, Alban Berg’s Lyric Suite. Kronos’ two most recent releases (both in 2014) are Kronos Explorer Series, a five-CD retrospective boxed set; and the single-disc A Thousand Thoughts, featuring mostly unreleased recordings from throughout Kronos’ career. With a staff of eleven based in San Francisco, the non-profit Kronos Performing Arts Association (KPAA) manages all aspects of Kronos’ work, including the commissioning of new works, concert tours and home-season performances, and education programs.

San Francisco Girls Chorus: San Francisco Girls Chorus, founded in 1978, is a regional center for music education and performance for girls and young women, ages 5–18. Each year 400 singers from 45 Bay Area cities participate in this internationally recognized program, deemed “a model in the country for training girls’ voices” by the California Arts Council. Annually, its dedicated young artists present season concerts, tour nationally or internationally, and appear with respected partner organizations, including San Francisco Symphony and San Francisco Opera. SFGC’s 30th Anniversary season, 2008-2009, culminated in a performance at President Barack Obama’s swearing-in ceremony, and a debut concert at Alice Tully Hall at New York’s Lincoln Center. The Girls Chorus has won many honors, including, the prestigious “Margaret Hillis Award” in 2001, given annually by Chorus America to a chorus that demonstrates artistic excellence, a strong organizational structure, and a commitment to education. Other awards include three ASCAP awards for Adventurous Programming in 2001, 2004 and 2011, and five Grammy awards.

Orange County School of the Arts – Classical Voice Conservatory: The children’s chorus comprises students from the Classical Voice Conservatory at the Orange County School of the Arts. OCSA’s Classical Voice Conservatory students range from seventh through twelfth grade and perform regularly as soloists as well as ensemble members. In addition to performance requirements, students are introduced to music fundamentals, such as theory, musicianship, history, diction, and piano.

KCETLink: KCETLink is the national independent public transmedia organization formed by the merger between KCET and Link Media. A viewer-supported 501c(3) organization, its content is distributed nationally via satellite on DirecTV (375) and DISH (9410), in Southern and Central California via broadcast, as well as through various digital delivery systems. The combined organization reaches a wide broadcast audience that includes Link TV’s 33 million satellite subscribers and KCET’s 5.6 million households in Southern and Central California. KCETLink is committed to driving public media innovation with smarter ways to access content that engages all audiences with global storytelling. For additional information about KCETLink productions, web-exclusive content, programming schedules and community events, please visit www.kcet.org or www.linktv.org.  

Artbound: With over 50 columnists and cultural critics in 11 counties of Southern California, Artbound provides seeds of engagement through articles, videos, projects and partners, who are narrating the cultural stories of the region. The role of Artbound is not just to record, report and broadcast cultural stories; its aim is to create mechanisms – be it partnerships, projects or online tools--through which audiences can take direct action in the creation of a common narrative. Artbound is broadcast on KCET in Southern California (www.kcet.org/findkcet) and Link TV via satellite on DirecTV 375 & DISH Network 9410For more information visit: www.kcet.org/artbound.

Grand Central Arts Center: Grand Central Art Center (GCAC), a unit of California State University at Fullerton – College of the Arts, is dedicated to the investigation and promotion of contemporary art and visual culture: regionally, nationally, and internationally through unique collaborations among artists, students, and the community. GCAC is the result of a unique partnership between the California State University at Fullerton and the City of Santa Ana. Located ten miles south of the main campus in the heart of downtown Santa Ana, the art center is a mixed residential, commercial and educational complex. The art center is a 45,000 square-foot, full city-block long and half-city block deep, three-level structure that houses: live/studio spaces for visual arts graduate students, the Grand Central Main Gallery, Project Room, Education/Teaching Gallery, Grand Central Theater, classrooms, and a studio and living space dedicated to the center’s international artist-in-residence program.

The Yost Theater: The Yost is the oldest Theater in Orange County and is currently registered as a Historic Landmark. Built for the booming Vaudeville movement in 1912, The Yost was first named The Auditorium only to be renamed The Clunes that same year. It wasn't until Ed Yost purchased the theater in 1919 that it acquired the name The Yost Theater. Famous stars of their time, such as silent-film comedian Ben Turpinand, vaudeville star Eva Tanguay, and many others performed at The Yost. In 2009, Dennis Lluy and Dave Leon signed the lease to take over the business of The Yost, officially opening the door again in 2011. Their goal is to see The Yost Theater come to life again – being the oldest theater with the newest technology.

The first installment of the opera "Vireo"