Vireo is an isolated 14-year-old girl who jumps, in her mind, from century to century and sees and hears things that no one else can. Vireo is also played by Drake sophomore Rowen Sabala.
Sabala, who is a vocal performance major, was chosen to play the part of Vireo in the made-for-TV opera “Vireo: The Spiritual Biography of a Witch’s Accuser” when she was a senior at Orange County School of the Arts in California.
The composer and director of the opera, Lisa Bielawa and Charles Otte respectively, came looking for a high school soprano. Sabala was one of 30 girls who auditioned and ended up being one of five called back.
Filming began in southern California onstage at a vaudeville theater. The opera was written as they traveled from Santa Ana to Alcatraz Island. According to Bielawa’s website, the opera included over 350 musicians and covered issues such as gender identity, perception and reality.
“It is a live performance that is filmed, but it is portrayed as regular TV. With regular TV, you don’t get the chance to see a live performance,” Sabala said.
Episodes would be filmed in one shot, unlike other TV shows where scenes are usually filmed over and over.
“It is not edited to the point of being unreal. It is still very raw,” Sabala said. “It is a very honest performance.”
Film sessions were spaced out, so Sabala didn’t have to miss too much school. The cast filmed episodes in January, had extensive rehearsals for a few months and then continued filming in June.
The show portrayed mental illness and the history of the Salem Witch Trials. Vireo, who is seen as more of a science project than a human being, according to Sabala, has created two other worlds that she switches back and forth from to escape from the unhappiness in her life.
“It’s through her eyes and how no one else can understand her,” said Sabala.
The show ended in San Francisco in the Redwoods.
“The people were amazing,” Sabala said about her coworkers. “I also got to do some traveling, which for people my age is not common. The music I was learning was really enlightening.”
Sabala had her first theater experience in first grade but didn’t get involved again until sixth grade when she joined a theater group. After moving on from the theater group in high school, she took acting classes for about a year.
“I would really like to pursue acting more, and I would like to continue doing music professionally,” Sabala said. She plans to focus on music for now.
If everything in life went Sabala’s way, she would want to continue with more things like Vireo and “expanding the world of music and opera.”
If not, though, Sabala would love to perform in jazz lounges.
Episodes of the TV opera series can be viewed on KCET or on www.operavireo.org.