Vireo is a CSUF Grand Central Art Center artist-in-residence project with Lisa Bielawa, in partnership with KCET Artbound.
This month, Vireo wrapped production of its 12-episodes serial broadcast opera with a marathon of shoots across the Bay Area. From stunning scenery in the California Redwoods to the inside of a 1962 Plymouth Valiant, here’s a recap of everything it took to complete the final three episodes of Vireo!
All photos by David Soderlund.
(Kronos Quartet, soprano Rowen Sabala (Vireo), composer Lisa Bielawa, and director Charles Otte at
Fort Mason Center of Art and Culture)
(Kronos Quartet and soprano Rowen Sabala (Vireo))
Our first stop was Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture in San Francisco on Monday, January 16, where we were delighted to welcome back the Kronos Quartet to perform with soprano Rowen Sabala (Vireo). The scene will be in the final chapter, Episode 12, “My Name Is Vireo.”
(Singers from the San Francisco Girls Chorus School (The Snowflakes) and pianist Kate Campbell at the
Kanbar Performing Arts Center)
That same day, our team set up in the Kanbar Performing Arts Center so our Snowflakes, played by young singers from the San Francisco Girls Chorus School and accompanied by Kate Campbell on the toy piano, could set the scene for our snowstorm in Episode 10, “Ice on the Sargasso.” A solitary violin (Jennifer Koh) also plays in the storm, punctuating the scenes.
(Soprano Rowen Sabala (Vireo) in the California Redwoods at Samuel P. Taylor State Park)
On Thursday, January 19, we shot a scene for Episode 12 in the California Redwoods, this time featuring just soprano Rowen Sabala (Vireo). Being able to film in this beautiful scenery was a great reminder of why creating Vireo in this format is so exciting.
(Contralto Emily Marvosh of Lorelei Ensemble (Witch/Lab Assistant) and soprano Rowen Sabala (Vireo))
(Lorelei Ensemble (Witches/Lab Assistants), baritone Gregory Purnhagen (The Doctor), and tenor Ryan Glover (Raphael))
Our next location was the expansive 16th Street Station in Oakland, which was the stage for our largest shoot yet, both in terms of scale and number of musicians. Lorelei Ensemble were the deliciously evil Witches/Lab Assistants, who paraded Vireo on a gurney as baritone Gregory Purnhagen (The Doctor) touted his “discoveries.”
(Episode 11, “Circus,” at the historic 16th Street Station in Oakland)
(Soprano Rowen Sabala (Vireo) and singers from the San Francisco Girls Chorus School (The Afflicted Girls))
(Soprano Deborah Voigt (The Queen of Sweden) and singers from the San Francisco Girls Chorus School (The Snowflakes))
(Director Charlie Otte and team calling the shots)
(Musicians from the Amateur Music Network as the Audience/Orchestra in Episode 11)
(Director Charles Otte, composer Lisa Bielawa, and librettist Erik Ehn)
The story moves to a climax in Episode 11, “Circus”: an orchestra fuels a circus, replete with ringmaster, unruly animals, and chorus of more than 100 singers. In addition to Vireo’s entire cast, these scenes feature Magik*Magik Orchestra; Lance Suzuki, piccolo; Matthias Bossi, drums; Chung Wai Soong, bass; Randy Matamoros, Hurdy-Gurdy; singers from the San Francisco Girls Chorus and Chorus School; an audience/orchestra of musicians from the Amateur Music Network; and opera star Deborah Voigt, who was a spell-binding presence in her role of The Queen of Sweden.
This shoot took place, coincidentally, on Inauguration Day, and many who were there – girls, parents, crew and cast alike – remarked that it felt like the best possible way to spend the day, creating new, vibrant work about powerful, visionary young women, in the company of over 100 of them, aged 8 to 18.
This was also a great reminder the epic scale of this project, and the amazing, colorful community of performers, musicians, crew, and audience-members involved in making it possible. The coordination between our director Charles Otte, director of photography Greg Cotten, producer Anne Marie Gillen, and composer Lisa Bielawa, who was conducting, to pull it off was incredible!
(Tenor Ryan Glover (Raphael) in pursuit of the getaway car, a 1962 Plymouth Valiant)
(On the set with a 1962 Plymouth Valiant)
Finally, on Saturday, January 21, the team headed to a studio in San Francisco to shoot our escape scene for Episode 10. Vireo and Caroline (soprano Emma MacKenzie) escape in their super-heated 1962 Plymouth Valiant through the snowy wastes, but The Doctor, Mother (mezzo-soprano Maria Lazarova), and Raphael (tenor Ryan Glover) are in pursuit.
And with that, production for all twelve episodes of Vireo was a wrap! We cannot wait to show you the series in its entirety. In May, KCET in Southern California and Link TV nationwide (DirecTV channel 375 and Dish Network channel 9410) will release all 12 episodes at once for free, via on-demand streaming, which is a first for both.
All the best,
The Vireo Team