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Newsletter: Recap of Episode 9, KQED Feature, New Music USA & NYFA Awards!

Hello to our ever-growing Vireo community!

The Vireo production officially went national last week as our LA-based crew joined forces with new team members in San Francisco. We had an incredible experience on the historic Alcatraz Island and wanted to share some highlights and photos with you, as well as offer our enormous thanks for helping to make an ambitious shoot like this possible!

We were delighted to have KQED's Charlise Tiee join us on the island and soak up everything that goes on during a Vireo shoot. Last week she published this terrific, in-depth feature article about the opera.

Director Charlie Otte and Director of Photography Greg Cotten pulled off masterful shots, culminating in their signature single 12-minute take, and captured stunning footage to and from the island with the full majesty of Alcatraz in view, all with the help of the expert crew.

Cast members were soprano Rowen Sabala as "Vireo," soprano Emma MacKenzie as "Caroline," and baritone Gregory Purnhagen as "The Priest/Doctor." Guest musicians were NY-based "contemporary music dynamos" (NPR) American Contemporary Music Ensemble (ACME), a sextet of superb singers from Cappella SF, a handful of volunteer ringers from Handbell Ventures, and Randy Matamoros, who provided stirring sounds from his hurdy-gurdy. Our entire cast got in costume back on shore (so we could shoot on the boat); Vireo characters and tourists mingling together proved to be an amusing sight!

I was floored by how breathtaking Rowen's performance of her aria "The Bat" sounded in the Alcatraz cell. This was the very first scene that librettist Erik Ehn and I sketched for Vireo, more than 20 years ago, so it was very moving for me to hear it in such an profound setting.

It was also great to have ACME as musicians for this shoot, since they were in fact the first group ever to perform music from Vireo during my residency at The Stone in 2014!

The beautiful acoustics of the well-worn walls inside Alcatraz also added to the incredible performance of Cappella SF as lamenting prisoners, who accompanied baritone Gregory Purnhagen's searching aria.

This was our first shoot outside LA, resulting in a mashup of veteran team members from LA and new faces from San Francisco, including SF Production Manager Lori Halloran, First Assistant Director (with deep Alcatraz expertise) Cara Miller, and our fearless new Bay Area Producer Marnie Burke de Guzman. The way everyone worked together was fluid, respectful, intense, and all-around astonishing!

We cannot WAIT to show you the footage and performances for Episode 9 when it's released on KCET in spring 2017. Until then, Vireo moves east to shoot our next episodes in the New York area this September!

Last week, we were named one of 60 projects to receive generous grants by New Music USA. Today, I am delighted to announce that I have been awarded a Fellowship in the category of Music and Sound from the New York Foundation for the Arts. Vireo is made possible through the support of donors like you, and awards like these. To those who wish to join them in their show of support, we thank you in advance too!

All the best, Lisa Bielawa

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