The Making of Vía Láctea, A new opera in english

Renowned soprano Emily Pulley sang the lead role of  Peregrina

Renowned soprano Emily Pulley sang the lead role of Peregrina

"Vía Láctea, A New Opera in English," an exciting work, had its world premiere to three sold-out audiences on the stage of Bend, Oregon's historic Tower Theatre June 10-12, 2016. The opera addresses a variety of timely, yet timeless themes, placed against the backdrop of the Camino de Santiago in Spain. The opera is based on Ellen Waterston' verse novel Vía Láctea: A Woman of a Certain Age Walks the Camino, inspired by her own pilgrimage. The opera was created and produced by a creative collaborative Central Oregon team, made up entirely of Oregonians.  In addition, as part of the production's commitment to education, opera students from the Northwest had an opportunity to attend the world premiere.

The title of the opera stems from the folkloric belief that the Milky Way, always overhead when walking the Camino, was created by dust kicked up by pilgrims’ feet over centuries of spiritual pilgrimages. Inspiring the collection’s title poem, this legend created a mystical canopy for both novel and opera. The operatic rendering, performed by OperaBend, was a lively, bold and alternately serious and humorous experience. The libretto was written by award-winning author Ellen Waterston, music by renowned composer Rebecca Oswald, orchestra conducted by the Central Oregon Symphony's maestro Michael Gesme, and choreography by Michelle Mejaski.


In 2012, Waterston found herself at a crossroads in life, wondering “What’s next?” In search of answers, she followed in the footsteps of centuries of pilgrims, penitents, and seekers, spending a month walking alongside others on the sacred ground of Spain’s Camino de Santiago, her worldly needs in a backpack. Back home, while sorting through the trip’s mementos, she found a map of the ten Camino routes that converge in Santiago. What jumped out at her was the stick-figure outline of a woman leaping. In that moment Camino Woman was born in her imagination.

The process of fleshing out this fictional character spawned others: a peregrina “of a certain age,” an intemperate Catholic priest, an omniscient wisdom keeper, and colorfully rendered caricatures of others met along the Way. The libretto benefited from and built on the poetic language of Ellen Waterston's verse novel, providing the springboard for the composer and the vocalists.

The creative Team

Pictured, from left to right: Jason Stein, Nancy Engebretson, Rebecca Oswald, Ellen Waterston, Michael Gesme, Michelle Mejaski.

The Vía Láctea creative team brought to the stage a new, engaging, stimulating operatic production that attracted new audiences from many demographics to experience and delight in its message and music, to discover new perspectives on their own personal journeys, to gain new appreciation for the pilgrimage commitment, and to open discussion about faith, spirituality, and women’s role in society.

OperaBend is a nonprofit regional opera company founded by Jason Stein, Executive Director, and Nancy Engebretson, Artistic Director. Ellen Waterston, the librettist, is a produced playwright, and an award-winning poet and author with several published poetry collections to her credit, as well as published works of essays and a memoir. Rebecca Oswald is a prolific, award-winning composer whose strong reputation and impressive accomplishments include works for solo instruments, various chamber ensembles, string orchestra, chamber orchestra, full orchestra, and a clarinet concerto. Michael Gesme is music director of the Central Oregon Symphony, and chair of the Department of Fine Arts and Communication at Central Oregon Community College, where he also instructs classes in music theory. Michelle Mejaski owns Gotta Dance Studio and Company, and has extensive experience as a choreographer for local theater and school productions. Louise Hawker, Watermark Communications, manages public relations and promotions, bringing long-standing experience including helping to grow a nonprofit cultural organization. 

Previews Held in Portland and Bend

Members of "Team Via" offered previews of "Via Lactea" in Portland, Oregon for the Portland Opera Guild and the White Dog Salon. In Bend, the opera was previewed for the public at The Oxford Hotel. Below are photos of the Bend preview, held July 2015.