Opera Philadelphia

Published21 May 2020

Breaking the Waves, the award-winning world premiere from composer Missy Mazzoli, librettist Royce Vavrek, and director James Darrah, receives its broadcast premiere on May 29 as part of Digital Festival O

When Opera Philadelphia’s adaptation of Lars von Trier’s searing, Oscar-nominated 1996 film Breaking the Waves made its world premiere in September 2016, the New York Times declared the opera “ambitious, accomplished, [and] dramatically direct,” and Opera News said it “stands among the best 21st-century American operas yet produced.” It has since earned the Music Critics Association of North America (MCANA)’s inaugural Best New Opera Award, an International Opera Award nomination for Best World Premiere, and made its New York debut with Beth Morrison Projects’ Prototype Festival and its European premiere in a new production with Scottish Opera, to continued acclaim.

Now, starting on Friday, May 29, at 8:00 p.m. EDT, home audiences the world over can watch this spellbinding production in its entirety as Opera Philadelphia’s Digital Festival O presents the broadcast premiere of the opera from former Composer in Residence Missy Mazzoli, librettist Royce Vavrek, and director James Darrah. The opera will remain available on-demand on YouTube and operaphila.org through Monday, August 31.

Set in the Scottish Highlands in the early 1970s, Breaking the Waves depicts a tragedy of conflicting ethical imperatives: between the pure love of child-like Bess McNeill for her husband, Norwegian oil-rig worker Jan, and the repressive morality of her deeply religious Calvinist community. When Jan becomes paralyzed after a near-fatal offshore accident, he begs Bess to take other lovers and share the details, insisting that this will keep their passion – and him – alive. She puts herself in increasingly dangerous sexual situations, convinced that by doing so she can save him. Her self-sacrifice leads to her denunciation, excommunication, and eventual demise, but also to the finale of divine grace with which the story – a meditation on the nature of goodness – concludes.

The three-act, two-hour-and-15-minute opera features 12 male members of the Opera Philadelphia Chorus, with a 15-player Opera Philadelphia Orchestra that includes electric guitar and harp, under the baton of Steven Osgood.

Starring soprano Kiera Duffy as Bess and baritone John Moore as her husband Jan, the premiere proved a sensation. The Wall Street Journal called Breaking the Waves “savage, heartbreaking and thoroughly original,” and Parterre Box called it “the most startling and moving new American opera in memory.” Eve Gigliotti stars as Bess’s sister-in-law, Dodo McNeill, with Patricia Schuman as Bess’s mother, David Portillo as Dr. Richardson, Zachary James as Terry, and Marcus DeLoach as the Minister.

On May 29 at 7:00 p.m. EDT, just before the digital premiere, Mazzoli, Vavrek, and Darrah will join a pre-broadcast conversation on “The Show Before The Show” hosted by Opera Philadelphia’s Frank Luzi and Sarah Williams.

The New Yorker says Opera Philadelphia “applies its venturesome spirit” to Digital Festival O “to the benefit of operagoers curious about what (the company) has been up to.” The streaming festival also features the 2017 world premiere of We Shall Not Be Moved by composer Daniel Bernard Roumain, librettist Marc Bamuthi Joseph, and director Bill T. Jones and the 2018 world premiere of Sky on Swings from composer Lembit Beecher, librettist Hannah Moscovitch, and director Joanna Settle. Both world premiere productions are streaming through Aug. 31. Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, in a production by director Michael Shell that recalls the comic films of Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar, is streaming through June 29.

Opera Philadelphia’s Digital Festival O is generously funded, in part, by the John S. & James L. Knight Foundation.

Major support for Breaking the Waves has been provided by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, the William Penn Foundation, and the Wyncote Foundation at the recommendation of Daniel K. Meyer, M.D. Additional support was provided by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, The Wallace Foundation, and OPERA America's Opera Grants for Female Composers program, supported by the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation. Additional commissioning support provided by by Allen Freedman and Judith Brick Freedman, and Chris Ahearn and Marla Mayer.

For more information, visit operaphila.org.

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