Vireo Episode One - The Blow

Episode 1: The Blow

Libretto

Vireo finds herself fluid in time, from Medieval to mid-20th Century, after hearing a mysterious Voice in the woods, and she falls into a “fit.” Her worried mother takes her to a doctor, but the answers are complex.

Featuring
Kronos Quartet, Matthias Bossi and The San Francisco Girls Chorus

 

(A forest. An unseen chorus establishes the environment.)

CHORUS
The beetle intervenes
Leaf/leaf
The scene is, like you,
Alive.
Beetle nerve.
Agitation, shifted leaf
The elements of word.

(The sound of a vireo. A girl comes running through the underbrush, on an adventure. She carries a covered iron skillet that she must mind.)

 

FEMALE VOICE (Surprisingly close, intimate, and human.)
Stop.

(The girl does.)

 

VIREO (Singing, like bird song.)
My name is Vireo.

 

VOICE
Two flowers on a tree, never before. Look up!

 

VIREO
Forest. Fog down steady, hills of France. Five thirty a.m., early summer. Fog comes kind, to help. Beds of light. The fir trees and nettle polishing the semi-precious stones of the day. Day’s reliquary. Bone white, on display.

(A woman appears, pulling turnips. She is Vireo’s mother. Vireo senses her, but doesn’t see her.)

The forest stands up from the beds of light and walks to form corridors. Mothers and doctors walk down halls. Closing the woods to a room. Vireo.

(Footsteps down a hall, a doctor dressed as a priest enters, not hurried; the sounds stop with his entrance. He crosses slowly to the woman.)

 

MOTHER (To the Doctor, but not turning.)
Vireo. Her name is Vireo. 1590. The woods of France.

 

VIREO
Fog passing light and shade over the woods in rhythm.

 

MOTHER
My daughter is a genius.

 

DOCTOR
You are not pulling turnips, although your arms work as if they were. You are lifting your daughter from the floor.

 

VIREO
A fourteen-year-old girl in 16th Century France.

(A woman appears standing in an oak tree, her head wrapped in gypsy-moth gauze.)

 

DOCTOR
Now, see? Vireo. Vireo falls to fits, falls to fits. Now, see? Now, see?

 

MOTHER
She’s having a vision? Where did this come from? Who was she watching?

 

VIREO
How did you get up in the tree?
Did the gypsy moth take you there?
Oh, shut up, Vireo.
I didn’t ask.
Can we start over?

(Pause.)

Can we start over?

(Vireo moves in and out of the voice’s song; Vireo is being overtaken by the sound of it.)

Pause.

 

VOICE
In the hardwood forest
The bird, moth and cricket
Sense the plague
They sense the plague that will shed one in four
They see, suffer and encrypt it

 

VIREO
They see, suffer and encrypt it

 

VOICE
Sensation and in between
Sending and receiving with every part
Fleet energy in the oaks’ machine
Cricket, bird, plague and moth
​Chirr, sing, die and weave
In stead of your heart

 

VIREO
I was passing
To the neighbor’s house
To borrow fire
Oh the neighbors - they live too far away
I was thinking how does fire burn
Thinking idly, and trying to pray
The neighbors live too far away
The neighbors live too far away
My mother says to pray and I
Practice, practice, practice
But now I feel that words are praying me
How did you get so high in the tree?
Or are you only moth-voice,
Or have I chosen you?
I am passing to the neighbor’s house
They live too far away
They live too far away
How does fire burn
How does fire burn
How do I burn
How do I burn
How do I burn away?

 

VOICE, VIREO
My soul dies for sorrow
Look at the world and hate it
Soon the crowd will gather, loud
You will flee, a bird, a cricket

 

VOICE
Did you come to gather fuel?
The flame bends to new fuel
The flame bends to new fuel

 

VIREO
There is a fire in this cold air

 

VOICE
What I burn is beautiful
Separate but enrapt
The burning is beautiful
Separate and in between

 

VIREO
The fog comes in to help people
Then changes its mind
When material day speaks its white word, unkind

(The Voice starts to leave. Vireo falls down and begs.)

Questions before you go
Who are you? And
What do you know?

 

VOICE (As itself.)
The fit isn’t the voice; it’s the voice leaving. The woods close to a room, and the helpers come in from the hall.

(The Voice leaves. Vireo is overtaken by a fit of hysteria. Mother holds her.)

A young girl appears onstage as if shoved into existence, walking past a quartet of musicians on the stage setting of a medieval forest outside of Reims, France. She has been sent to collect hot coals for a fire that has gone out at home, and as she wanders through the beautiful spring morning her mind drifts and flows to other realms and realities far from home. The world shifts around her, catapulting her through time and space to 19th-century Vienna, 20th-century Germany, and 21st-century America. She collapses, hearing voices and visions. Her name is Vireo.

In a 19th-century Viennese doctors office, Vireo falls into seizure, collapsing onto the ground, shouting and twitching uncontrollably, reaching for imaginary figures that seem to haunt the edges of her vision. Her mother has brought her to Vienna for a psychological examination, and the Doctor has become intrigued with her case. He begins a course of study that will continue for years in an attempt to analyze the “hysteria” that propels Vireo’s fits.

Mother and Doctor watch as Vireo returns to her vision in the 16th-century woods and a “Voice” sings to hear about nature and life. Vireo struggles to understand the metaphysical existence of nature and life, and when the Voice leaves her, she once again falls into a fit.

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