KCETLink Media Group, the national independent, non-profit digital and broadcast network, will launch VIREO: THE SPIRITUAL BIOGRAPHY OF A WITCH’S ACCUSER, a new multimedia serial opera by composer Lisa Bielawa, directed by Charles Otte with a libretto by Erik Ehn, created for episodic broadcast on air and online

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Lisa Bielawa, Charles Otte and Kronos Quartet Debut New Opera with KCETLink

Vireo: The Spiritual Biography of a Witch’s Accuser

An Innovative Episodic Serial Opera Offered On-Air and Online in Partnership with Cal State Fullerton’s Grand Central Art Center

Pilot Premieres March 31 on ARTBOUND on KCET and online at KCET.org/artbound and April 6 on Link TV

Go Behind the Scenes: www.kcet.org/arts/artbound/projects/vireo/

More information: www.operavireo.org

BURBANK & LOS ANGELES, Calif. – KCETLink Media Group, the national independent, non-profit digital and broadcast network, will launch VIREO: THE SPIRITUAL BIOGRAPHY OF A WITCH’S ACCUSER, a new multimedia serial opera by composer Lisa Bielawa, directed by Charles Otte with a libretto by Erik Ehn, created for episodic broadcast on air and online. Produced through a partnership with Grand Central Art Center (GCAC), the unique multimedia initiative will include online articles and videos showcasing various facets of the theatrical production, as well as a television special of the opera presented by ARTBOUND, KCETLink’s Emmy® award-winning arts and culture series.

Filmed before live audiences, the television series will be rolled out over two years with the 30-minute pilot (consisting of Episode One “The Blow” and Episode Two “Mercury”) premiering on March 31 at 8 p.m. PT on KCET (Southern California) and April 6 on Link TV at 8 p.m. PT/ET (DirecTV 375 and DISH Network 9410), and also available for online streaming at KCET.org.  Prior to the broadcast, ARTBOUND is publishing five multimedia installments that provide comprehensive background and insight into the components of creating an opera at kcet.org/artbound.  

VIREO: THE SPIRITUAL BIOGRAPHY OF A WITCH’S ACCUSER is a new opera composed by Lisa Bielawa on a libretto by Erik Ehn and directed by Charles Otte, created expressly for episodic release via broadcast and online media. Vireo is an artist residency project of Grand Central Art Center (GCAC) in Santa Ana, Director and Chief Curator John Spiak. GCAC is an outgrowth of California State University, Fullerton.

The Vireo pilot features the world-renowned 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; tenor Ryan Glover, drummer Matthias Bossi; and in the title role of Vireo, 16-year-old soprano Rowen Sabala. For more information on the artists, visit www.operavireo.org/#!pilot-episode/cee5.

Vireo 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 Erik 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, Massachusetts, 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. For more information, visit www.operavireo.org.

The first tapings took place at the Yost Theatre in Santa Ana, Calif. Future episodes of Vireo will be taped at additional venues.

The Vireo broadcast special is produced by Lisa Bielawa, Anne Marie Gillen, Iain Kennedy, and Juan Devis; production design is by Richard Hoover and Meghan Rogers; director of photography is Greg Cotton; sound design is by Dan Dryden; costume design is by Christina Wright.

VIREO Episode One Synopsis – “The Blow”

A chorus evokes the time and the place, a forest, 16th century France. A young woman named Vireo carries coals home from a neighbor’s house; she hears a disembodied voice. The Voice speaks to Vireo of the scope of the plague at hand, and of the difficulty of knowing and holding one’s place in the fires of time. The Voice leaves, and Vireo falls to fits.

VIREO Episode Two Synopsis – “Mercury”

Vireo’s Mother and a Priest examine the girl and conclude she has been possessed by a witch, and must be cloistered in a convent. But the Priest is only pretending to be a priest; he is actually a doctor, disguised in order to coddle and study Vireo’s anachronistic delusions. The character of Raphael, the Doctor’s callow assistant, is introduced. Raphael is instantly infatuated with Vireo’s madness. From her convent tower, Vireo watches a witch being burned at the stake. Although she doesn’t want to, Vireo hears the Voice again, from the dying woman now. The Voice stresses that there is so much left for Vireo to learn: as horrible as the plague-struck world may seem, it requires our breathless attention. Vireo wonders if she herself is becoming a witch.

MULTIMEDIA POSTS (kcet.org/Artbound)

The online installments will educate viewers about key facets of the production leading up to VIREO’s television broadcast premiere, online at www.kcet.org/arts/artbound/projects/vireo.

March 3: The Composer: Discover the vision behind production in this in-depth profile of composer Lisa Bielawa that illuminates the process of creating this imaginative unconventional opera.   

March 10: The Opera and Libretto:  Explore the way opera has evolved in the 21st century in this feature on librettist Erik Ehn. Learn how Southern California opera has been energized with new productions, which aim to engage younger audiences, interact with digitally savvy culture consumers, and update the medium for wider consumption.

March 17: History of Hysteria: Were witches the first feminists? This installment considers the centuries-old medical, psychological, and religious implications of hysteria that became justifications for systems of control on women. In the 20th Century, female artists began to create art that dealt with the perceptions of hysteria as well.

March 24: The Music. Learn about the musicians who will perform the sounds of the opera in this feature on the San Francisco string troupe, Kronos Quartet.

March 31: The Production: Meet Charles Otte, the renowned production designer who directs the opera’s technical and logistical aspects, and structure.    


KCETLink Media Group, formed by the merger between KCET and Link Media, is a national independent, nonprofit, digital and broadcast network that provides high-quality, culturally diverse programming designed to engage the public in innovative, entertaining and transformative ways. With a commitment to independent perspectives, smart global entertainment, local communities, and opportunities for engagement and social action, KCETLink depicts people and the world through a lens unavailable elsewhere in U.S. media. A viewer-supported 501(c)(3) organization, KCETLink content is distributed nationally via satellite on Link TV – DIRECTV channel 375 and DISH Network channel 9410 – and on KCET in Southern and Central California via broadcast and cable, as well as through various digital delivery systems. For additional information about KCET and Link TV productions, web-exclusive content, programming schedules and community events, please visit kcet.org or linktv.org.

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