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Sydney Mancasola Bess Mc Neill With The Chorus Of Breaking The Waves Credit Julie Howden Breaking the Waves | Photo: Julie Howden

Five reasons to see Breaking the Waves

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Missy Mazzoli's dark and daring opera caused a sensation when it premiered in 2016. Opening at the International Festival this week, here are five reasons why you should catch the European premiere of Breaking the Waves.

1. The powerful story

The opera is based on the 1996 Academy Award-nominated film Breaking the Waves which was written and directed by Lars von Trier. A powerful and provocative drama set in the Scottish Highlands in the early 1970s, it 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’ marital vows are put to the test and her increasing selflessness leads to a finale of divine grace, but at great cost.

Breaking the Waves | Photo: James Glossop
2. The star director

This new production is directed by Tom Morris, the Artistic Director of the Bristol Old Vic. Morris is best known as the co-director of the National Theatre’s smash hit War Horse. His gripping adaptation of Touching the Void played at The Lyceum earlier this year and will transfer to London’s West End in November. However this is not Morris’ first foray into opera, having previously directed The Death of Klinghoffer for English National Opera and the Metropolitan Opera to rave reviews.

Director Tom Morris | Photo: Julie Howden
3. The Grammy-nominated composer

A rising star of the modern American classical music scene, Missy Mazzoli has been hailed as ‘one of the more consistently inventive, surprising composers now working in New York’ by The New York Times and ‘Brooklyn’s post-millennial Mozart’ by Time Out New York. Mazzoli’s talent draws audiences equally into concert halls and rock clubs. Her unique music reflects a trend among composers of her generation who combine styles, melding indie-rock sensibilities with formal classical training. Get to know the composer in the video below.

4. The award-winning score

When the opera was first performed by Opera Philadelphia it won the 2017 award for Best New Opera from the Music Critics Association of North America and was described by Opera News as ‘among the best 21st-century operas yet’. This is the first time the opera has been staged in Europe.

‘Mazzoli’s score weds 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’
Alex Ross, The New Yorker

Breaking the Waves | Photo: James Glossop
5. The talented young cast

The role of Bess is played by American soprano Sydney Mancasola, who has been praised by The New York Times for her ‘lovely lyric soprano and radiant high notes’. She made her European debut with the Komische Oper Berlin and performed at New York’s Metropolitan Opera earlier this year. Mancasola is joined by Edinburgh-born baritone Duncan Rock and Irish-Canadian mezzo soprano Wallis Giunta, who won Young Singer of the Year at the 2018 International Opera Awards.


The European premiere of Opera Ventures and Scottish Opera's Breaking the Waves comes to the International Festival on 21-24 August 2019.

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