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Opera Philadelphia Scores Knockout with World Premiere of Missy Mazzoli’s Breaking the Waves; Final Performances Today (Sep 27), Sep 29, & Oct 1

The only American finalist for the 2016 International Opera Award for Best Opera Company, Opera Philadelphia scored a fresh triumph this past week, when it launched the season with the world premiere of Breaking the Waves, a new company co-commission inspired by Lars von Trier’s searing Oscar-nominated 1996 film, from the creative team of Missy Mazzoli, Royce Vavrek, and James Darrah. With three performances still to come (Sep 27 & 29; Oct 1), the critical response has already been unanimously euphoric; as the Philadelphia Inquirer notes, the season’s opening week has succeeded in “effectively demonstrat[ing] Opera Philadelphia’s growing presence and ambitions.”

Declaring the opera “ambitious, accomplished, [and] dramatically direct,” the New York Times pointed out:

“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.”

For the Wall Street Journal, Breaking the Waves was “savage, heartbreaking and thoroughly original,” while for Parterre, it was, quite simply: “the most startling and moving new American opera in memory.”

The Philadelphia Inquirer affirmed:

Unquestionably, Opera Philadelphia has developed, produced, and premiered a powerful, fully realized, artistically significant piece with Breaking the Waves. The creative team of long-promising artists … all seem to surpass themselves simultaneously and with a common dramatic purpose.”

As a result, Opera News reported, the audience was held “spellbound.” The review continued:

“Mazzoli’s music lived up to the hype her work has engendered: Breaking the Waves stands among the best 21st-century American operas yet produced.”

The New York Times shared this assessment of the music:

“Harmonies seethe and drone at the base of the new score, as implacable yet changeable as the omnipresent sea. … Ms. Mazzoli sets the language with passionate clarity, … confidently creat[ing] a range of densities, from symphonic weightiness to agile sparseness.”

Likewise, the Wall Street Journal found:

“Mr. Vavrek’s spare, eloquent libretto leaves ample space for Ms. Mazzoli’s music to create a complex portrait of Bess and her stark environment. … Ms. Mazzoli’s score deftly balances trenchant arias with a kaleidoscopic orchestration whose layers and colors suggest Messiaen, Britten and Janáček but is finally all her own.”

The Philadelphia Inquirer was equally impressed by the production:

“Darrah’s stage direction is incredibly precise when charting the opera’s progression from representational reality into something more nightmarish. … The narrative’s final (miraculous) musical effect is a stunner.”

The performances, especially that of soprano Kiera Duffy, who created the role of Bess (played by Emily Watson in von Trier’s film), drew similar praise. The Philadelphia Inquirer wrote:

“Performances under conductor Steven Osgood were assured on every level. … But the evening belonged to soprano Duffy. … Her acting had physical assurance, but, less tangibly, you cared about her from the moment she entered the stage.”

The New York Times also singled her out:

“The fearless, focused soprano Kiera Duffy, … singing with the cool roundedness of melting ice, creates a subtly ambivalent portrait of a woman both self-important and persecuted.”

The Wall Street Journal elaborated:

“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. … Ms. Duffy embodied Bess in a fearless vocal and physical performance, her gleaming soprano finding all the colors of poignant innocence.”

Opera News agreed:

“The sound that underlaid the whole evening’s success was the enduring purity of Duffy’s soprano, soaring on high. … An absolutely spectacular performance.”

All told, as the Wall Street Journal concluded:

Breaking the Waves is slated next for the Prototype Festival in New York in January 2017. It deserves a vigorous life beyond that.”

Breaking the Waves represents the most recent of the “new and challenging works” (Daily Beast) yielded by Opera Philadelphia’s innovative American Repertoire Program. Founded in 2011 with a commitment to producing a recent American work in each of ten consecutive seasons, and thereby fostering a new generation of homegrown opera composers to tell authentically American stories, the program confirms the company’s role as “one of the leading instigators of new work in the country” (Opera News). To learn more about Opera Philadelphia’s world premiere production, see preview features in The Guardian and NPR.

About Opera Philadelphia

Opera Philadelphia is committed to embracing innovation and developing opera for the 21st century. Described as “the very model of a modern opera company” by the Washington Post, Opera Philadelphia is the only American finalist for the 2016 International Opera Award for Best Opera Company. The company is charting a bold new path to September 2017, when Opera Philadelphia will open its 2017-18 season with an immersive, 12-day festival featuring seven operatic happenings in six venues throughout the city. The first festival, “O17,” will feature three world premieres, plus the exclusive East Coast appearance of Barrie Kosky’s groundbreaking production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute, and a recital by superstar soprano Sondra Radvanovsky. Opera Philadelphia will continue to present a spring season each year, including three additional productions in February, March, and April, making it the only U.S. opera company producing an annual opera season that begins with a dynamic festival. For more information, visit

To download high-resolution photos, click here.


Opera Philadelphia’s world premiere presentation of Breaking the Waves

Three performances still to come:
Sep 27, Sep 29, Oct 1M

American Repertoire Program
Co-commission and co-production with Beth Morrison Projects
The Perelman Theater
Music by Missy Mazzoli
Libretto by Royce Vavrek
Performed in English with English supertitles

BESS McNEILL: Kiera Duffy
JAN NYMAN: John Moore*
DODO McNEILL: Eve Gigliotti
Dr. RICHARDSON: David Portillo
BESS’s MOTHER: Patricia Schuman
TERRY: Zachary James*

CONDUCTOR: Steven Osgood*
DIRECTOR: James Darrah*
COSTUME DESIGN: Chrisi Karvonides

* Opera Philadelphia debut

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 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; Chris Ahearn and Marla Mayer.

Media Contacts

Opera Philadelphia: Frank Luzi, [email protected], (215) 893-5902
21C Media Group: Glenn Petry, [email protected], (212) 625-2038

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© 21C Media Group, September 2016

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