From Algorithms to Ballet: ‘Volare’ Shares the Story of Andrew and Erna Viterbi

The musical short film, “Volare” depicts the story of Andrew and Erna Viterbi — two Holocaust refugees, struggling to communicate in a new world, ushering in the communications revolution that makes so much of the modern world possible. Actors Lindsay Gitter (in red) and Griffith Frank (in white) depict young Erna and Andrew during their first date in 1957.


What happens when you merge the brilliance of an engineering mastermind with the grace of a ballerina’s dream? The answer unfolds in “Volare,” a short film honoring the legacy and love story of Andrew and Erna Viterbi. As USC Viterbi celebrates the 20th anniversary of the naming of the school, “Volare” invites audiences on a cinematic musical journey into the world of the Viterbis.

“We wanted to make Andrew and Erna’s story engaging in a way that would stand out while also introducing a new generation of engineers, builders and dreamers to the Viterbis,” said Adam Smith, chief creative content officer at USC Viterbi and the film’s co-writer and director. “‘Volare’ uses musical theater to celebrate engineering, merging the passions of both Andrew and Erna.”



Venturing beyond Andrew’s pivotal creation of the Viterbi algorithm, the musical delves into Erna’s equally impactful life. Beginning with childhood aspirations of becoming a ballerina, her story unfolds against the shadow of the Nazis invading Sarajevo, Bosnia. The title, “Volare,” meaning “to fly” in Andrew’s native Italian, encapsulates the soaring spirit that defines the Viterbis’ legacy.

“Volare” is a collaboration between USC Viterbi and the USC Kaufman School of Dance. Choreographer Jackie Kopsack is a former ballerina and founding faculty member at USC Kaufman. Dennis Lee, an award-winning video producer and director at USC Viterbi, joins Smith as a co-writer and director. Composer and lyricist Reuben Levine, B.S. ‘22, is a USC Viterbi graduate in mechanical engineering.

Exclusive screenings of “Volare” are planned for USC Viterbi students on the main campus in Fall 2024.