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. Their second opera, an adaptation of Lars von Trier’s Breaking the Waves, premiered at Opera Philadelphia, co-commissioned by Beth Morrison Projects, and directed by James Darrah to critical acclaim in September of 2016. The work won the 2017 Music Critics Association of North America award for Best New Opera and was nominated for Best World Premiere at the 2017 International Opera Awards. A new production premiered at the Edinburgh International Festival in the summer of 2019, produced by Scottish Opera and Opera Ventures, helmed by Tony Award-winning director Tom Morris and earned star Sydney Mancasola a coveted Herald Angel Award for her performance. Their next opera, an adaptation of Karen Russell’s short story Proving Up, was commissioned and presented by Washington National Opera, Opera Omaha and the Miller Theatre in 2018, was a finalist for the MCANA Best New Opera Award of that year. They are currently developing a grand opera for Opera Philadelphia and the Norwegian National Opera based on an original story by two-time Governor General’s Award-winning playwright Jordan Tannahill, as well as an adaptation of George Saunders’ Booker Prize-winning novel Lincoln in the Bardo for the Metropolitan Opera.
Teaming up with Swedish composer Mikael Karlsson, Royce wrote the story and text for two dance projects, Crypto, choreographed by Guillaume Côté for Côté Dance and Evidence of It All, choreographed by Drew Jacoby for SFDanceworks, featuring narration by the Academy Award-nominated actress Rosamund Pike. They are currently developing two grand operas: an adaptation of Lars von Trier’s Melancholia to premiere at the Royal Swedish Opera in 2023, and Fanny and Alexander, working alongside creative partner Ingmar Bergman, Jr. to musicalize his late father’s classic film for La Monnaie de Munt in 2024, in a production to be directed by Ivo van Hove. Both operas are to feature renowned mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter, for whom Mikael and Royce wrote the song cycle So We Will Vanish, premiered by the Swedish Chamber Orchestra in 2021 to critical acclaim.
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 April of 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 September of 2012 at Peak Performances @ Montclair, in a production co-produced by Beth Morrison Projects and directed by American maverick 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. They 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. They recently presented the workshop premiere of Silent Light, an opera based on the Cannes Jury Prize-winning film by Carlos Reygadas at the Banff Centre for Creativity, a collaboration with the director Thaddeus Strassberger, and are currently working on a new opera inspired by Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. They are also developing 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 Ellen Reid, and directed by R.B. Schlather. 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. Mark Ray Rinaldi of the Denver Post wrote that the opera “tells a great American story, about Gertrude Stein, as well as opera in the 21st century.” The opera was subsequently presented by Pittsburgh Opera, MasterVoices at New York City Center, Michigan Opera Theater, Opéra de Montréal and Opera Las Vegas. 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; Epistle Mass with Julian Wachner for Trinity Wall Street, Midwestern Gothic with Josh Schmidt for Signature Theatre, Virginia; Naamah’s Ark with Marisa Michelson for MasterVoices; O Columbia with Gregory Spears for HGOco; Knoxville: Summer of 2015 with Ellen Reid for the University of Tennessee, Knoxville and National Sawdust; The Wild Beast of the Bungalow with Rachel Peters for Oberlin Conservatory; Jacqueline with Luna Pearl Woolf for Tapestry New Opera; Adoration (based on the film by Atom Egoyan) with Mary Kouyoumdjian for Beth Morrison Projects; The Cremation of Sam McGee with Matthew Ricketts, supported by a grant from the Canada Council for the Arts; and Agnes with Daníel Bjarnason for the Icelandic Opera.
Royce is co-artistic director of The Coterie, an opera-theater company founded with Tony-nominee Lauren Worsham. He holds a BFA in filmmaking and creative writing from Concordia University’s Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema in Montreal and an MFA from the Graduate Musical Theater Writing Program at New York University. He is an alum of American Lyric Theater’s Composer Librettist Development Program.
Learn more at RoyceVavrek.com.