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Abraham in Flames (opera)

Residency and Workshop performances of Abraham in Flames

The Latest Update

Abraham in Flames world premiere May 9-12, 2019

Posted on February 25, 2019 by Niloufar Talebi

We are thrilled to be world premiering Abraham in Flames opera after 7 years in the making on May 9, 10, 11, 12, 2019 at Z Space in San Francisco, CA. Tickets available March 1 on www.zspace.org 

Abraham in Flames is an opera for girls chorus, featuring the Young Women’s Chorus of San Francisco as *Everygirl*, the protagonist of the opera, taunted by 5 adult soloists playing Angel, Poet, Knowing, Happiness, and Fear. More information on http://www.niloufartalebi.com/Abraham_in_Flames_opera.html

Thank you New Music USA for supporting this world premiere! 

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Abraham in Flames opera workshop a success!

Posted on November 7, 2017 by Niloufar Talebi

Our Abraham in Flames workshop residency at San Francisco’s Wilsey Center for Opera was a huge success on all fronts: artistic, collaborative, audience, educational etc. We spent 5 days exploring the first half of the opera and offering viewings of it, all 3 of which were packed with diverse, curious, and riveted audiences, most of whom stayed for the post-Q&A. We had a blast during our educational performance and chat that was made possible through a partnership with the San Francisco Opera Education Department. We are excited to premiere the completed work in Spring 2019 in San Francisco. Here are a few of the numerous messages of feedback and support we received: 

– Bravo for channeling your experiences to provide this shining example of a commitment to serve not only the artists but your audience too. 

– Congratulations on a beautiful performance last night. The piece was moving and powerful. I love every aspect: beautiful text and language, powerful emotional music, and savvy staging. I can’t wait to see the final product…

– I had an absolute blast these past few days and congratulations on a successful workshop! It was an honor to be able to play for the both of you on this wonderful project and I hope we can work together again sometime in the future!  I wish you the best of luck on the development of this opera and can’t wait to see what it becomes! It was a joy to be a part of the start!

– Everyone involved was such a pro, it was so fun, and the piece turned out MAGNIFICENTLY…

– We don’t know each other, but I’ve  been thinking a lot about the message of your opera. If there’s a particular poem or work I should read that may answer this question, let me know. Also, I love the music! I’ve seen finished operas that don’t seem as complete as what you all have.

– Congratulations on a wonderful and successful performance yesterday! It seems the piece is well on its way to being something very special. Its about time the allegory had its day once again! I really enjoy this kind of opera/oratorio hybrid…I think it’s long overdue to resume its place on the concert/opera stage. I was impressed, and I hope you find continuing success with the project

– I just wanted to thank you…It was incredibly special for us and the entire production was so beautiful and inspiring. You should be so proud of your work – a true inspiration that has me thinking of life and existence all night.

ABOUT Abraham in Flames video

Posted on September 20, 2017 by Niloufar Talebi

Watch what inspired us to create Abraham in Flames. 

5 years in the making, Abraham in Flames opera takes off this fall as the entire creative team gathers at the Wilsey Center for Opera in San Francisco with workshop performances of the first half of the opera on October 3, 2017 at 7:30pm, and October 4 at 1:00pm (educational) and 7:30pm. This 35-min performance that will be followed by a brief Q&A with the creators. 

Abraham in Flames is a new opera by creator/writer Niloufar Talebi, composer Aleksandra Vrebalov, and director Roy Rallo. The opera is inspired by Talebi’s coming of age in Tehran around the iconic Iranian poet Ahmad Shamlou during his presence in her parents’ literary salons, the staggering imagery in Shamlou’s life and poetry, the agony and final commitment of Jesus depicted in paintings of the Garden of Gethsemane, Trials by Fire, and the Tree of Life. Abraham in Flames is written for the Young Women’s Choral Projects of San Francisco, soloists including Merola Opera Program singers, and musical ensemble featuring The Living Earth Show. Abraham in Flames is about the history of the love we receive and the immeasurable impact of artistic mentors in our journey to spiritual becoming and quest for our truth. 

Early Bird Tix $20 General / $15 under 18: abrahaminflames.bpt.me/ 
Day of Tix: $25 General / $15 under 18.
Wilsey Center for Opera
at 401 Van Ness Ave., 4th floor Education Studio 
San Francisco, CA

Workshop Residency at the Wilsey Center for Opera Fall 2017

Posted on August 12, 2017 by Niloufar Talebi

We are delighted to be workshopping the first half of the opera at the Wilsey Center for Opera in San Francisco during a 5-day residency from September 30-October 4, 2017. Creator/Librettist Niloufar Talebi, composer Aleksandra Vrebalov, and director Roy Rallo will be joined by the Young Women’s Choral Projects of San Francisco, five soloists, and ensemble of musicians featuring The Living Earth Show lead by maestro Ming Luke to discover and workshop the work. There will be 3 public performances on October 3 & 4. Stay tuned for casting announcement and tickets information soon! 

Sneak preview at the SF International Arts Festival

Posted on June 22, 2017 by Niloufar Talebi

On May 31, we presented a libretto reading and excerpts of Aleksandra Vrebalov’s exciting new music for Abraham in Flames to a packed and mixed audience (of opera lovers and newbies, of Shamlou lovers and those new to him) at the SF International Arts Festival

Mezzo-soprano Jasmine Johnson sings POET.

John Elam on piano

Sneak preview presentation by Niloufar Talebi


Inspired by Iranian poet, Ahmad Shamlou, Abraham in Flames is a new opera about our search for our true selves, conceived/created and written by me (Niloufar Talebi) with composer Aleksandra Vrebalov and director Roy Rallo. Abraham in Flames world premieres on May 9-12, 2019 at San Francisco’s ZSpace.org.

The completed opera is a 70-minute work written for Young Women’s Choral Projects, Merola Opera Program soloists, and musical ensemble including the Living Earth Show. 

Nominated for the Nobel Prize in literature, Shamlou (1925-2000) is among the most celebrated figures of Iranian literature. He surmounted a bleak childhood to pioneer a modernist revolution. His poems allude to classical Persian literature, but they are also heirs of Rimbaud, Lorca, Dante, Shakespeare, and the world literature he translated and drew upon to create a cultural revolution. Abraham in Flames is the title of one of his seminal books, a biblical metaphor for the purity of truth-seekers, which we have adapted in turn to celebrate the beauty of risk-takers.

I knew Shamlou from his participation in my parents’ literary salons after the 1979 revolution when Iran was besieged in martial law, war, and executions. As a teenager, I found myself surrounded by inspired poets, their papers stained with food as they listened to Rachmaninov blaring from our gramophone. Their desire to be transported by music conquered good judgment, risking sudden raids by Islamic Police. The company I was privileged to keep shaped my future, still informing me as an artist.

That Western audiences do not know Shamlou’s works is due to the difficulty of translating his work, lack of state funds from Iran, etc. I won a 2014 NEA Translation fellowship for translating his work, and I have devoted my life to the mission of bridging cultural material from my native country. Self-Portrait in Bloom, my book that tells the larger story of the opera, contains a portrait and biography of Shamlou, as well as 30 of his poems in my translation. 

Shamlou’s sublime poetry is about the beauty buried inside that elevates, his staggering imagery adapted to animate the opera. Abraham in Flames takes its audiences on a journey of awakening to our humanity, a celebration of the power of art, focusing on the empowerment of young women, their journey to agency and independence from (male) influences. Abraham in Flames is a Bildungsoper—an opera of our formative years and spiritual education.

We tell this story in a flipped relationship: the chorus is the main character and soloists have supporting roles. The role of Poet is also flipped, sung by a female to diffuse the patriarchal norm of males looming as authority figures in women’s lives, while the truth of the work — the indelible impact of mentors — remains intact. The singers will move around audiences in a non-proscenium venue in a seamless transfer of human voice.

The first 35 min. of the opera was workshopped in Sept-Oct 2017. Thank you, NMUSA, for supporting these residency/workshop performances.

Project Media

Bubbles (2014)
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Commissioned by Brooklyn Academy of Music and Brooklyn Youth Chorus to mark the 80th anniversary of the Black Mountain College in 2014, as a part of Black Mountain Songs.

Both Robert Creeley and John Cage, whose texts I set for chorus and small ensemble, taught at Black Mountain College. I was inspired by the collaborative spirit and cross genre experiments that were typical for the community of artists teaching/creating there. The piece is my homage to this visionary institution that nurtured creativity, togetherness, and free spirit. –AV

Atash Sorushan (Fire Angels) (2011/2014) [Composer Mark Grey, Librettist Niloufar Talebi, Soprano Jessica Rivera]
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Features: Niloufar Talebi

Co-commissioned by Carnegie Hall & Cal Performances (chamber), Atlanta Symphony Orchestra (orchestral) for the 10th anniv. of 9/11.

Inspired by Zoroastrian philosophies, Fire Angels (36 min) is the tale of Mana and Ahsha, two larger-than-life beings that dwell in separate realms, each convinced of their supremacy. In an all out collision, they seek to prove once and for all who the greater is. Instead, as their outward mighty facades crumble, the truth is revealed: in our moments of vulnerability, we are ONE. Sung in Eng, Persian, Avestan.

Tassel (by Anna Meredith – 2016)
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Performed by The Living Earth Show & Post:Ballet,
Music composed by Anna Meredith,
Choreography by Robert Dekkers,
Directed by John Sanborn.

This video demonstrates the versatility of the LES as artists within immersive, multimedia, and innovative projects. The LES will be the core duo leading the ensemble of 6 musicians in our opera. The LES always memorizes their parts, and Director Roy Rallo envisions them taking part within the operatic performances as performers, in addition to musicians.

Start and End Dates



San Francisco, California

5 updates
Last update on February 25, 2019

Project Created By

San Francisco, California
Niloufar Talebi is an author, award-winning translator, multidisciplinary creator, and producer. Her work as librettist includes, Atash Sorushan (Fire Angels), Epiphany: A Requiem, The Plentiful Peach, The Investment, The Disinherited, and Abraham in Flames opera, and as creator/performer, ICARUS/RISE, and The Persian Rite of Spring. She is the Editor/Translator of the bilingual BELONGING: New Poetry by Iranians Around the World (North…

In Collaboration With

New York City, New York
Core Ensemble
San Francisco, California


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