Vireo: The Spiritual Biography of a Witch’s Accuser is a made-for-TV-and-online opera, composed by Lisa Bielawa on a libretto by Erik Ehn and directed by Charles Otte.
In May 2017, KCET released all twelve episodes of Vireo at once for free, on-demand streaming, which was a first for the network. Vireo made its world broadcast television premiere June 2017 on both KCET in Southern California and Link TV nationwide, with additional screenings across the country.
In 2019, Orange Mountain Music, the record label of Philip Glass, released Vireo as a DVD/CD box set.
Vireo was an Artist Residency Project of Grand Central Art Center in Santa Ana, a unit of Cal State Fullerton's College of the Arts shepherded by Director and Chief Curator John Spiak. The unique multimedia initiative included online articles and videos showcasing various facets of the production. Vireo was the winner of the 2015 ASCAP Foundation Deems Taylor/Virgil Thomson Multimedia Award and was awarded a prestigious MAP Fund Grant for 2016 through Grand Central Art Center. Bielawa and Otte recently received nominations for the 2018 Los Angeles Area Emmy Awards for their work on the project.
The eponymous heroine Vireo, played by soprano Rowen Sabala, is a fourteen-year-old girl genius entangled in the historic obsession with female visionaries, as witch-hunters, early psychiatrists, and modern artists have defined them. Based on Bielawa’s own research at Yale, 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, all the way to 19th century France and contemporary performance art, Vireo provides a thoughtful, sometimes-humorous look at the universal issues of gender identity, perception, and reality.
Vireo features the work of over 350 musicians including opera star Deborah Voigt, violinist Jennifer Koh, cellist Joshua Roman, mezzo-sopranos Laurie Rubin, Maria Lazarova and Kirsten Sollek, baritone Gregory Purnhagen, tenor Ryan Glover, drummer Matthias Bossi, soprano Emma MacKenzie and in the title role of Vireo, teenage soprano Rowen Sabala.
Additionally, the opera features the talents of notable groups and organizations from around the country including Kronos Quartet, the San Francisco Girls Chorus, Magik*Magik Orchestra, American Contemporary Music Ensemble, Alarm Will Sound, PARTCH, the Orange County School of the Arts Middle School Choir, and many, many more.
Rowen Sabala as Vireo. Photo by Matt Gush.