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The revelatory multimedia opera Violet Fire centers on the inventor Nikola Tesla (1856-1943), a visionary inventor responsible for breakthroughs in electricity, radio, robotics, and computer circuitry. Tesla was prone to waking hallucinations: he literally envisioned his way toward the ownership of more than 700 patents and countless ideas, both practical and utterly fantastic—or so they seemed at the time. Many of his inventions functioned wirelessly and interactively, anticipating the Wi-Fi world we now take for granted.

The evocative score, by Jon Gibson, a pioneering minimalist and senior member of the Philip Glass Ensemble, and dreamlike libretto, by writer Miriam Seidel, present Tesla as a prescient, transcendent figure, a man ahead of his time and in close touch with his imagination. A white pigeon he befriended in a Manhattan park takes on the role of his great love. She sings, telling him of nature’s mysteries. Together they encounter events and people from his life, including Mark Twain and the writer Margaret Storm, who was unwavering in her belief that Tesla was born on Venus. 

Violet Fire's performances

Violet Fire received its world premiere on July 9-15, 2006 at the National Theater in Belgrade, as part of the celebration of Tesla’s 150th birthday. On October 18-21, 2006, the Brooklyn Academy of Music presented the opera’s US premiere in New York during its Next Wave Festival, featuring singers and musicians of Serbia’s National Theater. A workshop performance at Temple University in Philadelphia, PA was produced in February 2004.

Other collaborators include Terry O’Reilly, longtime co-artistic director of Mabou Mines, who directed all versions of the production. Media design, featuring a full video score including live animation, was created by Sarah Drury and Jen Simmons. Choreographer Nina Winthrop, director of Nina Winthrop and Dancers, developed dance for the productions. Boris Čakširan designed the sets and costumes. Six soloists and a full chorus performed Violet Fire with the Belgrade National Theatre Orchestra, conducted by Ana Zorana Brajović.

Violet Fire’s Belgrade performance was part of the City of Belgrade’s BELEF summer arts festival, and producing partners included the National Theater of Belgrade and the Tesla Museum. The production received major support from the Trust for Mutual Understanding, the Republic of Serbia’s Committee for the Nikola Tesla 150th Anniversary Jubilee, the City of Belgrade Ministry of Culture, BAM, the Soros Foundation’s Fund for an Open Society—Serbia, Hyatt Hotels, and others.