Ruth Asawa with wire sculpture | Still from "Artbound" Masters of Modern Art

First Person: Composer Lisa Bielawa on 'Vireo'

Witches. Wisdom. Wonder. Vireo is an opera created for TV and online broadcast that considers the usage of "female hysteria" throughout the decades. The multi-episode production was composed by Lisa Bielawa on a libretto by Erik Ehn and directed by Charles Otte. "Vireo" is the winner of the 2015 ASCAP Foundation Deems Taylor/Virgil Thomson Multimedia Award.

Twenty years ago composer Lisa Bielawa was inspired by her studies of hysteria and worked with librettist Erik Ehn to create the work "Vireo." Artbound spoke with Bielawa to explore the stories behind the creation of "Vireo" and the historical context behind the episodic opera.

On the conceptual basis of "Vireo"

Vireo really had its birth in the Beinecke Rare Book Library at Yale. I was writing a senior essay that ended up being three times as long as it was supposed to be. It kind of took over my life. I initially thought that I was looking at collaborative male authorship on the subject of female protagonists. But what I found was much, much more than I had bargained for.

It's just unbelievable how many collaborative writings -- case histories, trial documents, evidence of communities of men throughout Western history -- who convened in order to create all kinds of discourse around the same subject matter, which was teenage girls, who were having some kind of transcendent experience.

What actual fields these men were from changed: Were they doctors? Were they priests? In some cases they were experimental artists, who were giving young girls absinthe in the back of a bar, and watching them create spontaneous, automatic poetry.

But the evidence of these young girls was in these collaborative documents that I found. These writings or trial documents that I found, in which there was at the center of it, a young teenage girl. But her own direct voice was missing. It was through the prismatic analysis of what she was saying and doing that you learned about the re-articulation of this phenomenon throughout Western history.

That senior essay is still filed there somewhere at Yale, but I came away from my experience at Yale with all of this research. I remember when Erik Ehn and I started working on this opera. It was before emails, of course. I used to send these thick packages to him. I couldn't believe I was working with someone who would read this stuff. I finally felt that I had found a way to engage with the stuff that I had found through this collaboration and through this project.

 

Get the free PBS App

Full Episodes

Upcoming Airdates

How Sweet The Sound: Gospel In Los Angeles

Gospel music would not be what it is today if not for the impact left by Los Angeles in the late '60s and early '70s, a time defined by political movements across the country. Artists like James Cleveland and Aretha Franklin captured live recordings of the church experience of South Central and the voices and sentiment of the people coming together to give birth to a new gospel sound and the election of L.A.’ s first black mayor, Tom Bradley.

  • 2020-08-12T20:00:00-07:00
    KCETLINK
  • 2020-08-23T10:00:00-07:00
    KCET-HD
  • 2020-08-27T06:00:00-07:00
    KCET-HD
  • 2020-09-09T20:00:00-07:00
    KCETLINK

That Far Corner: Frank Lloyd Wright In Los Angeles

During his time spent in Southern California in the late 1910s and early 1920s, Frank Lloyd Wright accelerated the search for an authentic L.A. architecture that was suitable to the city's culture and landscape. Writer/Director Christopher Hawthorne, architecture critic for the Los Angeles Times, explores the houses the legendary architect built in Los Angeles. The documentary also delves into the critic's provocative theory that these homes were also a means of artistic catharsis for Wright, who was recovering from a violent tragic episode in his life.

  • 2020-08-15T13:00:00-07:00
    KCETLINK
  • 2020-08-15T17:00:00-07:00
    KCETLINK

Día de Los Muertos / Day of the Dead

Día de los Muertos has been adapted for centuries from its pre-colonial roots to the popular depictions in mass media today. Inspired by rich Oaxacan traditions, it was brought to East Los Angeles in the 1970s as a way to enrich and reclaim Chicano identity through a small celebration at Self Help Graphics and Art. Since then, the celebration has grown in proportions with renditions enacted in communities all around the world.

  • 2020-08-16T10:00:00-07:00
    KCET-HD
  • 2020-09-02T20:00:00-07:00
    KCETLINK

Jeffrey Deitch's Los Angeles

The charming, unusual and at times polarizing Jeffrey Deitch left Los Angeles in 2013 after a tumultuous run as the director of MOCA ending in his resignation. He makes his return with a new gallery opening with the first LA exhibit of renowned Chinese artist and activist, Ai Weiwei. A behind-the-scenes look at the contemporary art world through the eyes of a legendary art dealer and curator.

  • 2020-08-19T20:00:00-07:00
    KCETLINK
  • 2020-09-03T06:00:00-07:00
    KCET-HD

Desert X

The vast, strange, sometimes contradictory world of the urban desert and its people are explored in 11 public art exhibits and their respective locations scattered throughout Coachella Valley. Art includes Will Boone’s “Monument,” an underground bunker off Ramon Road in Rancho Mirage and Phillip K. Smith III’s “Circle of Land and Sky” in Palm Desert. Desert X is a site-specific biennial exhibition that first took place in the spring of 2017 where artists from different parts of the world were invited to create work in response to the unique conditions of the Coachella Valley

  • 2020-08-22T13:00:00-07:00
    KCETLINK
  • 2020-08-22T17:00:00-07:00
    KCETLINK

Masters of Modern Design: The Art of the Japanese American Experience

From the iconic typeface of “The Godfather” book cover to Herman Miller’s Noguchi table, the influence of Japanese American artists and designers in postwar American art and design is unparalleled. While this second generation of Japanese American artists have been celebrated in various publications and exhibitions with their iconic work, less-discussed is how the World War II incarceration — a period of intense discrimination and hardship — has also had a powerful effect on the lives of artists such as Ruth Asawa, George Nakashima, Isamu Noguchi, S. Neil Fujita and Gyo Obata.

  • 2020-08-26T20:00:00-07:00
    KCETLINK
  • 2020-09-10T06:00:00-07:00
    KCET-HD

Electric Earth: The Art of Doug Aitken

This episode profiles prominent artist Doug Aitken who for more than 20 years has shifted the perception and location of images and narratives. His multichannel video installations, sculptures, photographs, publications, happenings and architectural works demonstrate the nature and structure of our ever-mobile, ever-changing, image-based contemporary condition. In his newest piece, “Underwater Pavilions,” he creates a conversation with the viewer to become fully present and immersed in the sea.

  • 2020-08-29T13:00:00-07:00
    KCETLINK
  • 2020-08-29T17:00:00-07:00
    KCETLINK

Variedades: Olvera Street

This look at Los Angeles’ Olvera Street is part-history lesson and part-immersion in stereotype of the birthplace of Los Angeles. Emmy® award-winning journalist, author and musician Rubén Martínez, explores the sometimes-violent, 200-year struggle for the political and symbolic control of the city as told in “Variedades” — an interdisciplinary performance series that brings together music, spoken word, theater, comedy and the visual arts, loosely based on the Mexican vaudeville shows of early-20th century Los Angeles.

  • 2020-09-05T17:00:00-07:00
    KCETLINK