Freydís and Gudrid has come a long way since The Far Travelers, its original title, was performed at the Guild Hall of East Hampton on Long Island in May 2018. 

As he revealed to The Viking Herald in late 2023, composer, writer, and director Jeffrey Leiser focused his groundbreaking work on the story of two women, Freydís Eiríksdóttir and Gudrid Thorbjarnardóttir. 

One is the daughter of Erik the Red and, therefore, the sister of Leif Erikson, the Norse explorer who reached North America around the year 1000. The other is the wife of their younger brother, Thorstein. 

Both traveled to Vinland, now commonly acknowledged as the New World, where Gudrid is said to have given birth, the first European to do so on American soil. 

But both were involved in some kind of feud, which fuels the narrative of Leiser's musical drama. 

Creative inspiration and background 

The opera Freydís and Gudrid was also inspired by a journey Leiser made more than 20 years ago: 

"The first time I ever went abroad," he told The Viking Herald in our recent interview, "it was with my brother to Iceland in 2003." 

"It was just so stark and so different to what I had left behind. When I got back, I immersed myself in the Penguin edition of the Icelandic sagas. I became fascinated, both by the wonderful storytelling and the rhythm of the language, the Prose Edda (available to buy on Amazon, here)." 

Eric Leiser is also a filmmaker, as well as an animator and holographer. His exhibitions have been staged, and his films have been screened at major galleries and festivals around the world. 

The brothers had suffered a personal loss, and going to Iceland seemed like the most uplifting option. 

After the 2018 live performance of his operatic saga, Jeffrey Leiser adapted the project into a film. He cast top American soprano Micaëla Oeste as one of the two female leads and shot the film on location in Iceland. 

A short version was released in 2023, and since then, Leiser has been working on the full-length feature, which will be available for streaming on Amazon Prime starting July 7. 

Simultaneously, the complete 136-minute opera Freydís and Gudrid will be released as an album on Spotify, iTunes, and Amazon Music. 

Jeffrey Leiser now talks to The Viking Herald about adapting Freydís and Gudrid for its final release in two forms and his unorthodox plans to further showcase his work. 

Jeffrey Leiser's interest in Norse mythology was sparked by a transformative trip to Iceland in 2003, leading him to explore the rich narratives found in the Icelandic sagas. Source: Albino Fawn Productions

The Viking Herald: When we spoke in December 2023, you mentioned that a full-length version of Freydís and Gudrid was close to completion. Have you implemented any changes since then? 

Jeffrey Leiser: "Yes, big editing decisions were made. The film was cut down by 20 minutes to improve the flow of the narrative. I want this film to be a bridge between filmgoers and opera lovers, so story and pacing had to take precedence."

"Thankfully, since this is also an opera album, audiophiles and opera lovers can listen to the original 136-minute piece." 

"Another element from the film is that all the reverb was removed, so that voices sounded more conversational, whereas the opera album is set in a lush concert hall." 

The set design involved intricate blue-screen work, enabling the seamless integration of Icelandic landscapes into the staged performances. Source: Albino Fawn Productions

TVH: What other plans do you have for the project? 

JL: "For the film, we are in talks about licensing it to various entities, such as a luxury cruise line. We're also exploring hybrid performances outside traditional spaces." 

"For the opera itself, it will be pitched for full-stage production, reversing the usual sequence of performance first followed by screen adaptation." 

"There are a few operas that have been adapted from pre-existent films, but never an opera that premiered as a film, then put on as a staged performance!" 

"It was created both to be seen and heard and thus has not premiered on a physical stage. It will also be released on July 7 as a 115-minute cinema experience (sans reverb on the singing) and as a full-album 136-minute opera." 

"Choose your own adventure!" 

TVH: In creating Freydís and Gudrid, what unique challenges and solutions were encountered? 

JL: "This project was unorthodox because it isn't the product of a traditional company or musical group. As a filmmaker in the opera world, I modeled every aspect on cinematic methods, hand-selecting every singer, player, conductor, and crew member myself." 

"It was partially funded through three cultural grants, a lab residency, and partially through a film production company I co-founded."  

"The libretto was entirely penned in the Icelandic Eddaic style, employing alliterative verse, assonance, internal rhyme, and the use of kennings." 

The libretto for "Freydís and Gudrid" was crafted in the Icelandic Eddaic style, featuring alliterative verse and kennings, to preserve the authenticity of its Norse saga roots. Source: Albino Fawn Productions

TVH: And how did this creative process come together? 

JL: "The composition process began with a virtual instrument mock-up where all dialogue was hummed."

"This was followed by word replacement, adaptation to Sibelius software, which dramatically changed the form of the music, and finally, decisive editing as the parts were prepared." 

"At no point were the score or the words printed until they were distributed to the performers." 

"The final parts were revised in Sibelius software between orchestrator/arranger Andrés Soto and me, all the way into rehearsals." 

Funded in part through cultural grants and a lab residency, "Freydís and Gudrid" represents a significant collaboration between the arts and film industries. Source: Albino Fawn Productions 

TVH: And how about the recording and filming? 

JL: "The recording of the music, rehearsals, and filming of the movie took place over only seven and a half days, yet the post-production process took a few years, as it was mostly filmed in a blue-screen environment." 

"Star Micaëla Oeste and Director of Photography Sam Krueger spent a week in Iceland capturing moments and backgrounds for the film." 

"The recording process was innovative, as the Douglass Street studio in Brooklyn had to be completely rearranged to accommodate the significant Covid spike of early 2021." 

"In one room, a 13-piece band played, with three musicians doubling on instruments, separated by partitions so that no one could see each other. 

"The singers were tucked away in several other compartments, each equipped with a monitoring station." 

"This approach proved successful, as we had only two and a half days for recording, and I used the vocal splits to meticulously match lip-sync for the film version."

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