Everyone likes an underdog story. That’s why Lisa Bielawa, opera composer, became fascinated with women throughout history who were told, “You don’t know what you’re talking about” by men who thought they knew it all. And decided to write and produce an opera online, releasing all episodes streamed on the internet.
Wait.. how does one thing relates to the other? First of all, let us refresh your memory on how ‘mansplaining’ happened in the past.
What is ‘mansplaining’ again? Mansplaining happens when a man tries to explain something that is happening to a girl or woman with no logical explanation or background to it. Priest and doctors were typically the ones who were guilty of mansplaining throughout history. Take Joan of Arc for example. Joan thought she received messages from God that told her she was the one who could give turn the tide of the 100 Year’s war in favor of the French. Then Joan led the French to key victories and did just that. But when the wrong people found out she spoke to God she was now believed to be a witch. This is a classic case of mansplaining.
That’s the type of story that Bielawa is telling in her upcoming opera Vireo. Vireo is the story of a young clairvoyant and the way people react to her gift. Just as history shows, the girl who the opera is named is manipulated and misguided by men who see her gift as something completely different than what it actually is. It was during graduate school at Yale in the 90’s when Bielawa first came up with Vireo’s story. But she wasn’t ready to share it with the world until now. Young girls dance and fall to the floor while singing complicated melodies accompanied to the stirring music performed live by a cast of musicians, while men in lab coats observe and make judgments about the girls’ conditions. However, Vireo will have a different approach to what has been know as traditional opera: it’s being produced and will be released as 12 mini episodes to be streamed as online opera.
Yes. Now you can binge watch opera online from the comfort of your own couch. Just like the women who inspired it though, Vireo is getting some funny looks. By definition, an opera is a live performance and Vireo is being filmed just like a TV show. Yet all the other pieces of the puzzle are there. The music and the singing all come from the librettist Erik Ehn, and there are scenes that you just would never see in a regular TV show. But the show is cut up into 12 ten-to-thirteen minute episodes.
No one has seen anything like this before. So how will people consume it? Well, that’s a good question that no one knows the answer to yet. Not even Bielawa. No one knows if it’s a good or bad that an opera is being split into episodes. But the thing that excites Bielawa is that people will be able to decide how and when they watch it.
In that sense, Vireo’s story and streaming opera online go hand in hand. Bielawa isn’t trying to explain what is happening to the girls in modern terms. She is simply letting the viewer experience it. Unlike the priests and doctors who for centuries tried to explain what was happening the girls, Bielawa doesn’t know what streaming opera in TV style will do. She is simply letting people experience it in a way that makes sense to them.
No matter how people view it one thing is for sure: people will have a much easier time to watch streamed opera rather than traditional opera. More and more people are cutting their cable cords because of the ease of streaming. Your show is there when you want it and how you want it.
Waiting in the car to pick up your kids? You’ve got opera on your phone. Sitting on the beach? Whip out your tablet and plug in your headphones. Looking for some entertainment on your lunch break? Opera is only a few clicks away on your laptop.
That’s why Vireo is an underdog: opera has never been this accessible before. The only thing you have to do to watch the first episode of Vireo is to click this link.
There are no varying acoustics depending on where you sit and also no bad visual angles. It’s all up to you, the viewer. That makes for an unpredictable opera experience. And when something as esteemed and established as opera becomes unpredictable, watch out. People will be unhappy, and they will try to label it. They will try to dictate what opera can and can’t do. They will try to make it just as predictable and controlled as it was before.
Just like how people did to the young girls that inspired Bielawa to create Vireo in the first place. But at the end of the day, the person who decides the future of opera is you. The viewer. So sit back, relax and check out Vireo.
What’s the future of streamable opera? Stay tunned to the first two episodes and tell us what you think about Vireo!