Abraham in Flames, an opera for girls chorus

Niloufar Talebi (Creator/Librettist)

Aleksandra Vrebalov (Composer)

Roy Rallo (Director/Dramaturg)

Stefano Flavoni (Musical Director)

Heather Carson (Production and Lighting Design)

Christine Crook (Costume Design)

Featuring the Young Women’s Chorus of SF and The Living Earth Show

Commissioned and Presented by Niloufar Talebi Projects

Produced by Cath Brittan

in partnership with the Merola Opera Program

World Premiere: May 9-12, 2019

Z Space

450 Florida street @ 17th street

San Francisco, CA 94110  


Abraham in Flames is a new opera by creator/writer Niloufar Talebi, composer Aleksandra Vrebalov, and director/dramaturg Roy Rallo. The opera is inspired by Talebi's coming of age in Tehran around the iconic Iranian poet Ahmad Shamlou who attended her parents' literary salons, the staggering imagery in Shamlou's life and poetry, Trials by Fire, and the Tree of Life.

Once upon a time, there was a little girl who was overcome with wonder and awe from seeing silent snowfall outside the window of her blue bedroom and wrote four lines in her notebook that she knew was poetry...


YWCP (chorus) -- Lead character: Girl

RYAN BELONGIE -- Merola alum (countertenor): Angel

RENÉE RAPIER -- Merola alum (mezzo-soprano): Poet

NIKKI EINFELD -- Merola alum (soprano): Fear/Doubt

KIRK EICHELBERGER -- Merola alum (bass): Knowing

ANDREW METZGER (tenor): Happiness




RON BORELLI (accordion)


LUCAS CHEN (cello)


Please join others in supporting the creation of this new work of art. All contributions are tax-deductible and via our fiscal sponsor, Intersection of the Arts.

Abraham in Flames is made possible by support from the San Francisco Arts Commission, the CA Arts Council, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Creative Work Fund, the Phyllis C. Wattis Foundation, the Sam Mazza Foundation, New Music USA, individual gifts including by Lily Sarafan, Sharon Simpson, Anderson Norby, Darioush and Shahpar Khaledi, Majid and Maryam Rahimian, Bernice Lindstrom, Malcolm and Jill Winspeare, Stephen and Susan Philpott, Frederic Smith, The Crow Family, Michael Tilson Thomas and Joshua Robison, Bette and Joe Hirsch, Stacy Pourfallah, Carol Weitz, Maryam Mohit, Beatrice Bowles, Anonymous, and many more individuals, in addition to a generous challenge match grant from Anonymous Foundation.

Read Niloufar’s article about the challenges of making an opera

Read a Q&A w/ Niloufar about “being a multi-faceted creator”


I had the immense fortune of coming of age in the years after the 1979 Iranian revolution around the iconic Iranian poet, Ahmad Shamlou, who visited my parents’ literary salons in Tehran. His presence in my life was a defining and disruptive moment that has echoed in immeasurable ways through my life. No ounce of my being has been untouched by him. To grow up around such a towering figure was a gift of love, art, and a brush with the best of what humanity has to offer.

I began translating Shamlou’s poetry years ago, part of my book, Self-Portrait in Bloom, and meditating on creating an opera based on or inspired by his work and cinematic life. The opera has turned into a “Künstleroper,” an opera about the spiritual growth of a young artist, inspired by my own memories and growth into the artist and person that I am. So the opera is written for a girls chorus as the MAIN character, with soloists playing supporting roles to them.

There are many poetic images, biblical stories, anecdotes, personal experiences, and epiphanies that went into the original parable that I wrote as the story of the opera. Some of the materials my collaborators, director Roy Rallo whose vision is for an immersive and emotional theater of archetypes, and composer Aleksandra Vrebalov who is passionate about telling stories of women, and I drew from include, the agony and final commitment of Jesus depicted in paintings of the Garden of Gethsemane, Shamlou’s seminal book of poems, Ebraahim Dar Aatash, which I translate into Abraham in Flames. The title is taken from the story of Abraham surviving unscathed the trial by fire that Nimrod puts him through for not believing in idols. Shamlou’s poems celebrate those who risk everything for their truths. We believe artists and other risk-takers do the same.


The opera’s first half was workshopped during a Residency Week: September 30 -- October 4, 2017, with 3 public viewings:

Oct. 3 at 1:00 (educational thru SF Opera Ed) and 7:30 pm

Oct. 4 at 7:30 pm

Wilsey Center for Opera, San Francisco

401 Van Ness Ave. 4th floor Education Studio


Early Bird Tix: $20 General / $15 under 18

Day of Tix: $25 Genreral / $15 under 18

The 1:00 pm October 4, 2017 viewing is offered to K-12 students and included a Professional Development sessions for educators in parternship with the San Francisco Opera Education Department.


YWCP (chorus): Girl

BRIAN THORSETT (tenor): Angel


NIKKI EINFELD (soprano): Fear/Doubt

COLIN RAMSEY (bass): Knowing

ANDREW METZGER (tenor): Happiness


MING LUKE (musical director)


RON BORELLI (accordion)


LUCAS CHEN (cello)


Read the Press Release here

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Images from the 5-day residency workshop at the Wilsey Center in Fall 2017