The Making of Vía Láctea: An Opera in Two Acts

"Vía Láctea: An Opera in Two Acts" is a modern opera with a contemporary theme, based on the verse novel of the same name, subtitled A Woman of a Certain Age Walks the Camino, written by Ellen Waterston, about her pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago in Spain. The opera, created and produced by a creative collaborative Central Oregon team, will have its world premiere on the stage of Bend, Oregon's historic Tower Theatre June 10-12, 2016. In addition, students and vocalists will have an opportunity to participate in workshops prior to the 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 creates a mystical, spiritual “ceiling” for both novel and opera. The operatic rendering, to be performed by OperaBend, will be a fresh, compelling contemporary production, with the libretto adapted from Waterston’s work, music by renowned composer Rebecca Oswald, conducted by Michael Gesme, and with stage sets based on the work of Ron Schultz, who illustrated the art book version of Vía Láctea.

The Story

In 2012, Waterston found herself at a crossroads in life, basically 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.

Fleshing out this fictional character, as the embodiment of all holy women marginalized by patriarchal religions, spawned others including the main character — a fictionalized peregrina “of a certain age”, a stylized Catholic priest, an omniscient third-person voice, and caricatures of others met along the Way. The Vía Láctea libretto, adapted from Ellen Waterston’s verse novel, continues its use of poetic language, rich with internal rhyming, strong assonance and consonance, and complex rhythms unique to each character. The characters and their overlapping spiritual journeys will come to operatic life through the work of composer Rebecca Oswald.

The Team

The Vía Láctea creative team will bring to the stage a new, engaging, stimulating operatic production that will invite 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 are underscored by the excitement expressed by the collaborators.


Michael Gesme, music director of the Central Oregon Symphony, and chair of the Department of Fine Arts at Central Oregon Community College, where he also instructs classes in




Ron Schultz, set designer, created the book’s original illustrations which will be adapted as stage sets


Louise Hawker, Watermark Communications, managing public relations and promotions.