Monday, July 3, 2017

The World of Vireo

Opera. There, I've written it. If you're still reading stick with me a few more minutes. Most people I know are not fans of opera. I'm a take it or leave kind of person. If I'm listening to the radio and opera comes on, there's a fair chance that I won't change the channel, but I'm probably not going to seek it out either. So, when I came across a story about a new opera written for television (!) my interest was peaked. When I found out that the opera was concerned with witches, well, I had to know more.

Vireo: The Spiritual Biography of a Witch's Accuser was composed by Lisa Bielawa and based on her research of how women who had "hysterical fits" throughout history were interpreted by men. The libretto is by Erik Ehn and the episodes are directed by Charles Otte. Yes, there are episodes, twelve in all. I just finished episode three "The Needle" and love that each one is less than 15 minutes long. That's about the right amount of time for me to be able to absorb what is happening. Opera takes work. I can't just have it on and go about by business. And with this opera you wouldn't want to because it is beautiful to look at.

You're probably wondering what this opera is about. Well, I'll let them tell it:

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.

That's pretty heavy, so let me say that what I've seen in the first three episodes is pretty interesting. Vireo jumps back and forth in time between current day and what appears to be the seventeenth century. She falls down in fits and awakes in either century being examined by doctors or clergy depending on the century. So far, one witch has been burned at the stake. The set has been on stage, but I know that in future episodes it moves to Alcatraz and a farm.

It took me several days to work up to watching the first episode, but after watching it stuck with me so that after a few more days I wanted another episode. The next day I needed more. I think it's going to be a once-a-day routine now till I'm finished.

I'm going to recommend that you check this out even though I've only watched three episodes. I forgot to mention that you can stream the episodes for free at KCET. You might have to step outside your comfort zone, but try just one episode. This is opera like you've never seen it before. It might just cast a spell on you.

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