In January I had a second opportunity to photograph the filming of Vireo: The Spiritual Biography of a Witch's Accuser, a serialized opera produced for television by KCET in Los Angeles. As of today all 12 episodes are available for streaming at the KCET website and will be broadcast by KCET in early June.
The completion of this project has caused me to reflect back on the whirlwind week in January when I served as the still photographer for the filming of the final episodes of Vireo. It was a week filled with musical superstars (the Kronos Quartet), a Metropolitan Opera star (Deborah Voigt), and a cast of, well, hundreds anyway, including members of the San Francisco Girls Chorus and Chorus School, musicians from the Magik*Magik Orchestra, members of the vocal ensemble Lorelei, and an audience/orchestra of musicians from the Amateur Music Network. Locations included the Ft. Mason Center and a video studio in San Francisco, Samuel P. Taylor State Park in Marin County, and -- most notably -- the abandoned 16th Street railroad station in Oakland (lead image), transformed for this event into a colorful and surreal circus venue.
The week began at the end of the opera with the filming of the 12th and final episode, featuring Rowen Sabala (Vireo) and the Kronos Quartet. Originally the entire episode was envisioned to occur in a redwood grove, but the fickle and wet January weather precluded any outdoor performance by the Kronos Quartet. Instead, filming took place at the Fort Mason Center in a large empty room lit by windows on three sides.
Later in the week, this episode was re-shot on location among the redwoods in Marin County, with Rowen performing her aria a cappella. I will be interested to see how the production team integrates these two performances in the final version of Episode 12!
In the middle of the week action shifted the 16th Street Station for the final segment of Episode 10 and all of Episode 11. At the end of Episode 10 Vireo is treated with morphine in a segment featuring members of the Lorelei Ensemble dressed as nurses. Subsequently she is wheeled on a gurney to the center of the "circus ring," where Episode 11 begins.
It is impossible to describe in a few words the chaos and drama of Episode 11, Vireo's drug-induced dream in which familiar characters are transformed in strange and sometimes fantastic ways as the story reaches its climax. The following photographs provide glimpses of the action.
Finally, at the end of the week, the action moved a white-walled studio in San Francisco to film scenes from Episode 10 involving the principal members of the cast and a 1962 Plymouth Valiant. Nearly all of the action took place inside the car, a challenge for both the cameraman (who obviously got all the best shots and sight lines) and me. It was nearly impossible to get useful images through the windows of the car until I realized that I could use a circular polarizing filter to minimize reflections!
Being even a small part of the Vireo project was both exhilarating and immensely satisfying. It posed a variety of photographic challenges that stretched me beyond my comfort zone and demanded the most of my equipment. However, unlike my first gig as a photographer for Vireo, this time I was known to the cast and the production team and, in turn, I had some idea of what to expect. In the end I was able to deliver a portfolio of images that were selected for both their quality as photographs and their narrative value to document the production.