Royce Vavrek is a Canada-born, Brooklyn-based librettist and lyricist who has been called “the indie Hofmannsthal” (The New Yorker), a “Metastasio of the downtown opera scene” (The Washington Post), “an exemplary creator of operatic prose” (The New York Times), and “one of the most celebrated and sought after librettists in the world” (CBC Radio). His opera Angel’s Bone with composer Du Yun was awarded the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Music.
With composer Missy Mazzoli he wrote Song from the Uproar, premiered by Beth Morrison Projects in 2012, and subsequently seen in multiple presentations around the country, including at REDCAT through LA Opera's Off Grand initiative in 2015. Their second opera, an adaptation of Lars von Trier’s Breaking the Waves, premiered at Opera Philadelphia to critical acclaim in 2016. The work won the 2017 Music Critics Association of North America award for Best New Opera. Their next opera, an adaptation of Karen Russell’s short story "Proving Up,” was commissioned by Washington National Opera, Opera Omaha and The Miller Theatre, be presented by the three institutions in 2018. They are currently developing a grand opera for a future season at Opera Philadelphia.
His collaboration with composer David T. Little led Heidi Waleson of the Wall Street Journal to proclaim them “one of the most exciting composer-librettist teams working in opera today.” In 2016 they premiered their first grand opera, JFK, at Fort Worth Opera, a co-commission with American Lyric Theater and Opéra de Montréal that was called “ravishing” (Opera News), earning a ten-star review in Opera Now magazine. This followed the success of their first opera, Dog Days, which received its world premiere in 2012 at Peak Performances @ Montclair, in a production co-produced by Beth Morrison Projects and directed by Robert Woodruff. The work was celebrated as the Classical Music Event of the year by Time Out New York and a standout opera of recent decades by The New York Times. LA Opera Off Grand presented the West Coast premiere of Dog Days at REDCAT in 2015. Little and Vavrek are currently developing an original work for the Metropolitan Opera through the Met/LCT commissioning program.
Royce has also worked extensively with composer Paola Prestini, first on the song cycle Yoani, inspired by the blog posts of Yoani Sanchez, and then on The Hubble Cantata, a virtual reality oratorio produced by VisionIntoArt/National Sawdust in association with Beth Morrison Projects. The latter work, called "a thundering opus" by Hyperallergic has been presented by BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn!, Kennedy Center and LA Opera, and was preserved in a studio recording released by National Sawdust Tracks. They are currently working on a number of new projects including an operatic adaptation of Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea with director Robert Wilson; The Glass Box for the Young People's Chorus of New York; and an adaptation of Carlos Reygadas' film Silent Light with Thaddeus Strassberger. They will also workshop Film Stills, a project for mezzo-soprano Eve Gigliotti that dramatizes four of Cindy Sherman's iconic photographs through musical monologues composed by Paola, Missy Mazzoli, Nico Muhly and Du Yun. Royce and Paola's collaboration can be further heard on the AIDS Quilt Songbook: Sing for Hope recording, where their song "Union," as sung by Isabel Leonard, is featured.
In 2014 Royce premiered 27, his first collaboration with composer Ricky Ian Gordon, at the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis. Created for renowned mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe, the work brought to life Gertrude Stein’s famous salon at 27 rue de Fleurus in Paris. The opera was subsequently presented by Pittsburgh Opera and MasterVoices at New York City Center, and will next be seen at Michigan Opera Theater. In 2017 their adaptation of Gail Rock’s Christmas classic The House Without a Christmas Tree for Houston Grand Opera was premiered to critical acclaim.
Other recent and upcoming projects include Strip Mall with Matt Marks for the Los Angeles Philharmonic; Diana Vreeland with Mikael Karlsson for VisionIntoArt; Midwestern Gothic with Josh Schmidt for Signature Theatre, Virginia; Naamah’s Ark with Marisa Michelson for MasterVoices; O Columbia with Gregory Spears for HGOco; and Knoxville: Summer of 2015 with Ellen Reid for the University of Tennessee, Knoxville and National Sawdust.
Photo: Ricardo Beas