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

in partnership with the Merola Opera Program

Cath Brittan (Production)

“an elusive but arresting new chamber opera…”

— Joshua Kosman of the SF Chronicle

"Vrebalov’s seductive and colorfully orchestrated score...with a sleek production and lighting design by Heather Carson and costumes by Christine Crook, the opera stirred interest even before it began.” 

— Steven Winn of SF Classical Voice’s in Abraham in Flames Burns Brightly at Z Space

“Written by a female composer and female librettist, a very rare occurrence in a world dominated by male composers/librettists...The biggest pièce de résistance of the opera, the use of a girls’ choir as the lead character. An amazing achievement for everybody involved, and truly a worthy addition to the opera world."

— Michael Anthonio of Parterre in There Will be Bloom

World Premiere: May 9-12, 2019

Z Space

450 Florida street @ 17th street

San Francisco, CA 94110  


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)


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...

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.

Photo credits: Devlin Shand, Alexandra Taub, Aron Taub, and Jules Cisek

Read reviews and articles about Abraham in Flames


I had the immense fortune of coming of age in the years after the 1979 Iranian revolution around the iconic Iranian poet, احمد شاملو  Ahmad Shamlou (1925 - 2000), 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. To grow up around such a figure was a gift of love, art, and a brush with the best of humanity.

Shamlou was a poet, writer, translator, and a towering cultural figure who surmounted a bleak childhood to foment a revolution in Iranian poetics. 

I began translating Shamlou’s poetry years ago. A book-length selection of those translations are included in Self-Portrait in Bloom, my part-memoir, part-biography, part-history of literature in Iran, and part-photo essay meditation on art and the creative spirit.

Read sample translations here.

Abraham in Flames is inspired by Shamlou’s work and cinematic life. A “Künstleroper,” or an opera about the spiritual growth of a young artist, it is written for girls chorus as the protagonist, with soloists playing supporting roles to them.

Numerous poetic images, biblical stories, anecdotes, personal experiences, and epiphanies 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 ابراهیم در آتش which I translate into Abraham in Flames. The title is taken from the story of young 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, such as freedom-fighters, artists, and so many others.


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 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 General / $15 under 18

1:00 pm Oct. 4 viewing was offered to K-12 students and included a Professional Development session for educators in partnership with the San Francisco Opera Education Department.

Singers:                                                                  Musicians:

YWCP (chorus): Girl                                               MING LUKE (conductor)

BRIAN THORSETT (tenor): Angel                          THE LIVING EARTH SHOW

JASMINE JOHNSON (alto): Poet                          RON BORELLI (accordion)

NIKKI EINFELD (soprano): Fear/Doubt                 MATTHEW BOYLES (clarinet)

COLIN RAMSEY (bass): Knowing                          LUCAS CHEN (cello)

ANDREW METZGER (tenor): Happiness               RACHEL PATRICK (violin)

Read the workshop Press Release here