Vireo: The Spiritual Biography of a Witch's Accuser

Photo by Matt Gush

Photo by Matt Gush

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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, which is unprecedented in that it is being created expressly for episodic release via broadcast and online media. The opera 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 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.

On February 23 and 24, 2015, the pilot episode of Vireo will be videotaped at The Yost Theater in Santa Ana. 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. Future episodes of Vireo will be taped at other venues throughout the country, with a wide variety of presenting partners and performers. Vireo is produced by Lisa Bielawa, Anne Marie Gillen, Iain Kennedy, and Juan Devis; Richard Hoover and Meghan Rogers, Production Designers; Greg Cotten, Director of Photography; Dan Dryden, Sound Designer; and Christina Wright, Costume Designer.