Past Shows

Breaking the Waves

Artist’s Praise

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

Among the best twenty-first-century American operas
— David Shengold, Opera News

[Mazzoli] is Among the more consistently inventive, surprising composers now working in New York.
— Steve Smith, The New York Times

Mr. Vavrek is an exemplary creator of operatic prose
— Steve Smith, The New York Times

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About the Show

New York City Premiere
January 6,7 and 9 at 7:30 PM

Based on the film by Lars Von Trier, Breaking the Waves tells the story of Bess, a religious young woman deeply in love with her husband Jan. Bess’s marital vows are tested when Jan is paralyzed in an off-shore oil rig accident. As this psychological drama about sacrificial love unfolds, Bess’s unrelenting selflessness escalates towards a devastating finale. 

Composer: Missy Mazzoli
Librettist: Royce Vavrek
Based on the film by: Lars Von Trier
Director: James Darrah
Conductor: Julian Wachner
Dramaturgs: Cori Ellison and Mike Cohen

Scenic Designer: Adam Rigg
Lighting Designer: Pablo Santiago
Projection Designer: Adam Larsen
Costume Designer: Chrisi Karvonides Dushenko
Video Engineer: Shane Meador
Sound Engineer: Marc Urselli
Stage Manager: Becki Smith
Assistant Stage Manager: Jennifer Shaw
Assistant Conductor: Sam McCoy
Assistant Director: Amanda Consol
Rehearsal Pianist: Jody Schum

Bess McNeill: Kiera Duffy
Jan Nyman: John Moore
Bess’s Mother: Theodora Hanslowe
Dodo McNeill: Eve Gigliotti
Terry: Matthew Curran
Dr. Richardson: Dominic Armstrong
The Minister: Marcus DeLoach
The Sadistic Sailor: John David Miles
The Runt: George Ross Somerville
The Stone Thrower: Daniel Taylor

Featuring NOVUS NY and the Choir of Trinity Church Wall Street

Chorus: Jim Gwathney, Stephen Humes, Thomas McCarger, Scott Mello, John Miles, Garrett Obrycki, George Somerville, Tim Stopper, Dan Taylor, Jackson Williams, Steven Williamson, and Jonathan Woody

NOVUS NY Orchestra: Katie Hyun, Edson Scheid, Nathan Schram, Doug Balliett, Melissa Baker, Stuart Breczinski, Benjamin Fingland, Bard Balliett, David Byrd-Marrow, Mike Lormand, Ian Rosenbaum, Bridget Kibbey, Charity Wicks, and Taylor Levine

At Skirball Center for the Performing Arts

An Opera Philadelphia production, Breaking the Waves was co-commissioned by Opera Philadelphia and Beth Morrison Projects. 

Major support for Breaking the Waves has been provided by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage and the William Penn Foundation. Additional support is 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 by Allen Freedman and Judith Brick Freedman and Linda and Stuart Nelson.

Scenery built and painted by Opera Philadelphia 
Costumes constructed by Opera Philadelphia 
Production owned by Opera Philadelphia 
Rehearsed at New 42nd Street Studios

Co-presented with NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts – New York University and Trinity Church Wall Street.

Photo by Dominic M. Mercier for Opera Philadelphia

Show run time: 150 minutes including intermission

Post-Performance Conversation will follow the January 7 show.

Artist Bio

Missy Mazzoli (Composer). Recently deemed “one of the more consistently inventive, surprising composers now working in New York” (NY Times) and “Brooklyn’s post-millennial Mozart” (Time Out New York), Missy Mazzoli has had her music performed globally by the Kronos Quartet, eighth blackbird, New York City Opera, the Minnesota Orchestra and many others. From 2012-2015 she was Composer-in-Residence with Opera Philadelphia, Gotham Chamber Opera and Music Theatre-Group. Her 2016 opera Breaking the Waves, created in collaboration with librettist Royce Vavrek and based on the film by Lars von Trier, was described as “among the best 21st century operas yet” (Opera News), “savage, heartbreaking and thoroughly original” (Wall Street Journal) and “dark and daring” (NY Times). Missy’s first multi-media opera, Song from the Uproar, was produced by Beth Morrison Projects and had a sold-out run at venerable New York venue The Kitchen in 2012. Recent seasons included the sold-out west coast premiere of Song from the Uproar with LA Opera, as well as new works performed by pianist Emanuel Ax, the LA Philharmonic, violinist Jennifer Koh, the Detroit Symphony, and Missy’s ensemble Victoire, which recently premiered her oratorio Vespers for a New Dark Age at Carnegie Hall. Missy is the recipient of a 2015 grant from the Foundation for Contemporary Arts, four ASCAP Young Composer Awards and a Fulbright Grant to the Netherlands. She is currently on the composition faculty at Mannes College of Music and her music is published by G. Schirmer. 

Royce Vavrek (Librettist) has been called “the indie Hofmannsthal” (The New Yorker), a “Metastasio of the downtown opera scene” (The Washington Post), and “an exemplary creator of operatic prose” (The New York Times). His notable work includes JFK (Fort Worth Opera/American Lyric Theater/Opéra de Montréal) and Dog Days(Peak Performances @ Montclair/Beth Morrison Projects/Fort Worth Opera/LA Opera/Prototype Festival/Theatre Bielefeld/Staatstheater Schwerin) with David T. Little; “27” (Opera Theatre of Saint Louis/Pittsburgh Opera/MasterVoices) with Ricky Ian Gordon; Song from the Uproar (Beth Morrison Projects/The Kitchen/LA Opera/Milwuakee Opera Theater/Chautauqua Opera) with Missy Mazzoli; Angel’s Bone (Prototype Festival) with Du Yun; O Columbia (HGOco) with Gregory Spears; and The Hubble Cantata(Bay Chamber Concerts/VisionIntoArt/BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn!/Beth Morrison Projects) with Paola Prestini. Upcoming projects include Midwestern Gothic with Joshua Schmidt for Signature Theatre, Virginia; The House Without a Christmas Tree with Ricky Ian Gordon for Houston Grand Opera; Stoned Prince with Hannah Lash for American Opera Projects and the Virginia Arts Festival; and Proving Up with Missy Mazzoli, an adaptation of Karen Russell’s short story for Washington National Opera, Opera Omaha and The Miller Theatre. Royce is Co-Artistic Director with soprano Lauren Worsham of the opera-theater company The Coterie, and an alumnus of Concordia University (Montreal), the Graduate Musical Theater Writing Program at NYU, and American Lyric Theater’s Composer Librettist Development Program. 

Artist Statement

I believe that opera is a place for big ideas, a potent storytelling tool of the new millennium.  In Breaking the Waves I have found an opportunity to explore sonic dimensions of faith, loyalty and goodness, and, through music, to illuminate the complexity that Lars von Trier brings to his characters.  In this surreal operatic universe, a men’s chorus initially represents church elders but over the course of the work become a menacing expression of Bess’s psychology, Bess sings with a heartbreaking combination of naiveté and steadfast belief in her ultimately doomed path, and strange percussion and a distorted electric guitar combine with lyrical strings and dark brass to create a sound world as extreme as the Scottish landscape itself. Immediately upon seeing this film I felt that the complex, universal themes and multifaceted characters could manifest in a refreshing and provocative new work for the operatic stage. Breaking the Waves is the most ambitious project I have ever attempted and the culmination of everything I have done up to this point as a composer.  I am extremely grateful to Beth Morrison Projects and Opera Philadelphia for this incredible opportunity.

-Missy Mazzoli 


I have been haunted by the story of Bess McNeill since first seeing Lars von Trier’s film in 1997 when I was only fourteen years old. I sat arrested by the intense virtuosity of Emily Watsons’s performance, by the audaciousness of its storytelling, and by the rich emotional landscape in every character. I did not know then how important the film would turn out to be for me, but it has sunk deep into my marrow, becoming part of my body’s chemistry. What a dream come true it is to give operatic voice to my favorite film… creating this work with Missy has been an amazing journey I’ll never forget.

-Royce Vavrek