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Breaking the Waves (opera)

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Breaking the Waves is an opera in three acts by Missy Mazzoli with a libretto by Royce Vavrek. It is based on the 1996 film of the same name by Danish auteur Lars von Trier. The opera was first performed on September 22, 2016, by Opera Philadelphia.


Commissioning and performances

The opera was commissioned and premiered by Opera Philadelphia. The work was co-commissioned by Beth Morrison Projects. The Prototype festival in New York City showed this production in three performances in January 2017 at the Skirball Center for the Performing Arts.


Set in the Scottish Highlands in the early 1970s, Breaking the Waves tells the story of Bess McNeill, a religious young woman with a deep love for her husband Jan, a handsome oil rig worker. When Jan becomes paralyzed in an off-shore accident, Bess's marital vows are put to the test as he encourages her to seek other lovers and return to his bedside to tell him of her sexual activities. He insists that the stories will feel like they are making love together and keep him alive. Bess's increasing selflessness leads to a finale of divine grace, but at great cost.

Critical reception

"Missy Mazzoli's Breaking the Waves, which had its world premiere at Opera Philadelphia on Thursday, is savage, heartbreaking and thoroughly original. The 1996 Lars von Trier film on which it is based has a disturbing undercurrent of violent misogyny, but the operatic Bess McNeill, for all her frailties, is no victim. Classic tragic opera heroines may weep and die, but Bess, as conceived by Ms. Mazzoli and librettist Royce Vavrek, and sung by the extraordinary Kiera Duffy, is an evolving, unforgettable character." Heidi Waleson, The Wall Street Journal

"...the desperate scenario of self-destruction and redemption seems to be a projection of Bess’s will to believe, her reshaping of the fabric of the world. Mazzoli’s score supports that dynamic by wedding strong lyric invention to an unsettled, insidiously dissonant chamber-orchestra texture that evokes the jagged beauty both of Skye and of Bess’s inner landscape. Benjamin Britten is a palpable influence, particularly in thrashing orchestral tempests and some melismatic, Peter Quint-like writing for tenor. Yet Mazzoli absorbs these and other elements into her own spare, propulsive voice." Alex Ross, The New Yorker

"It is not easy to find new operas that command attention, tell their story lucidly and create a powerful, permeating mood. Dark and daring, Breaking the Waves does all this with sensitivity and style." Zachary Woolfe, The New York Times.


Breaking the Waves (opera) Wikipedia

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