LA Opera Presents Breaking the Waves Digitally, Beginning March 12

Based on the Lars von Trier film, the harrowing opera by composer Missy Mazzoli and librettist Royce Vavrek will stream on both LA Opera On Now and the Opera Philadelphia Channel

(Los Angeles) February 23, 2021 — LA Opera will co-present an online stream of Breaking the Waves, an opera by composer Missy Mazzoli and librettist Royce Vavrek that was previously scheduled to open on the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion stage this month. Described by the Wall Street Journal as "savage, heartbreaking and thoroughly original," the opera will begin streaming on March 12, 2021, in collaboration with Opera Philadelphia.

Hailed by Opera News as "among the best 21st-century American operas yet produced," the opera is a faithful adaption of Lars von Trier's extraordinary 1996 film, in which a devout young woman deciphers the meaning of fidelity, facing the condemnation of her church as she puts herself through a series of dangerous sexual encounters. With its intense subject matter, violence, language and nudity, Breaking the Waves is recommended for mature audiences only.

Breaking the Waves will be available free of charge through the LA Opera On Now platform of digital performances, first exclusively to LA Opera subscribers from March 12 through 18, and then to the general public from March 19 through April 12. The stream will also be available to subscribers of the Opera Philadelphia Channel.

Breaking the Waves was filmed during its world premiere production at Opera Philadelphia in 2016. For the 2021 stream, director James Darrah, who staged that production, presents a remastered release of that recording, featuring color correction by cinematographer and colorist Michael Thomas, remastered sound from George Blood Audio, and a new edit from Active Image Media.

“It was heartbreaking to lose the opportunity to produce the estimable Missy Mazzoli's Breaking the Waves on our stage this year, but I'm delighted that our partnership with Opera Philadelphia will enable our audiences to experience this extraordinary piece in its celebrated world premiere production,” said Christopher Koelsch, LA Opera's Sebastian Paul and Marybelle Musco President and CEO. “As we look forward to the reopening of our theater—with the safety of our audiences, artists and staff as our greatest priority—our fundamental commitment to the operas of our own time continues undaunted, as does our mission to connect our audiences with deeply meaningful opera experiences, even while our stage remains temporarily dark."  

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About the Opera

Commissioned by Opera Philadelphia and Beth Morrison Projects, the opera is set in a remote Scottish village, where Bess, a devout member of a strict Calvinist church, marries Jan, a handsome foreigner working on an offshore oil rig. After a near-fatal accident leaves Jan paralyzed, Bess’s marital vows are put to the test when he urges her to seek other lovers and then tell him of her sexual activities. He insists that her stories will keep him alive. Bess’s increasing selflessness leads to a finale of divine grace, but at great cost.

Named Best New Opera by the Music Critics Association of North America in 2017, Breaking the Waves was Missy Mazzoli's first large-scale opera. "I felt that Bess’s crushing vulnerability, steadfast faith and shocking bravery could manifest in a refreshing and provocative new character on the operatic stage," she has said. "In creating music for Bess and her world I saw an opportunity to create a new kind of heroine, and a new kind of opera that presents complex characters in an intricate and unblinking light."

Since its Philadelphia premiere, the opera has been produced by Scottish Opera and Australia's Adelaide Festival, with additional performances planned.

About the Creators

Recently deemed “one of the more consistently inventive, surprising composers now working in New York” (New York Times) and “Brooklyn’s post-millennial Mozart” (Time Out New York), Missy Mazzoli has had her music performed by major opera companies, symphony orchestras and chamber ensembles around the world. LA Opera presented her opera Song from the Uproar in 2015 as part of the Off Grand series. In 2018 she became one of the first two women, along with Jeanine Tesori, to receive a mainstage commission from the Metropolitan Opera. She is composer in residence at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and from 2012 to 2015 was composer in residence with Opera Philadelphia. Upcoming commissions include works for Opera Philadelphia, the National Ballet of Canada, Lyric Opera of Chicago and Norwegian National Opera.

Librettist Royce Vavrek has been called “an exemplary creator of operatic prose” (New York Times). His opera Angel’s Bone with composer Du Yun was awarded the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Music. With Missy Mazzoli, he also wrote Song from the Uproar, premiered by Beth Morrison Projects in 2012, and Proving Up, presented by Washington National Opera, Opera Omaha and the Miller Theatre. They are currently developing an adaptation of George Saunders’ novel Lincoln in the Bardo for the Metropolitan Opera. His collaborations with composer David T. Little include Dog Days, seen at LA Opera in 2015, and he wrote the libretto for composer Paola Prestini's The Hubble Cantata, co-presented by LA Opera at the Ford Theatres in 2017.

Director James Darrah works at the intersection of theater, opera and film. Amid pandemic-related cancelations, he has generated a wide range of new digital content and helped organizations transform existing productions into viable projects that allow for remote collaboration between musicians, directors and designers. He is the newly named artistic director and chief creative officer of Long Beach Opera. He is also the creative director for the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, directing 16 episodic short films in a new orchestral series called Close Quarters. Current projects include an animated adaptation of The Fall of the House of Usher by Philip Glass for Boston Lyric Opera and the world premiere of Desert In, an original operatic television series with composer Ellen Reid and screenwriter Christopher Oscar Peña.   

About the Artists

Soprano Kiera Duffy stars as Bess with baritone John Moore as Jan. Soprano Patricia Schuman is Bess's mother and mezzo-soprano Eve Gigliotti is Bess's sister-in-law Dodo. Tenor David Portillo appears as Dr. Richardson, bass Zachary James is Jan's friend Terry and baritone Marcus DeLoach is the Minister.

Steven Osgood conducts a production directed by James Darrah. Adam Rigg is the set designer, Chrisi Karvonides is the costume designer and Pablo Santiago is the lighting designer, with projections designed by Adam Larsen. The performance features 12 men from the Opera Philadelphia Chorus, prepared by chorus master Elizabeth Braden, and 15 musicians from the Opera Philadelphia Orchestra.

About LA Opera On Now 

LA Opera was the first major American opera company to create a platform for original new online programming to bring opera to audiences during the coronavirus crisis. As the company awaits its cue to return to the stage with world-class productions in theaters, it is offering a variety of digital content including newly commissioned performances, live recitals, opera broadcasts and learning opportunities via its On Now digital offerings, which have accumulated over 795,000 views since its launch on March 17, 2020. 

About LA Opera

Los Angeles is a city of enormous diversity and creativity, and LA Opera is dedicated to reflecting that vibrancy by redefining what opera can be with thrilling performances, thought-provoking productions and innovative programming. The communal and curative power of opera is needed now more than ever before, especially given the extraordinary challenges of the time. The company is grateful to its supporters for helping to ensure that it has the resources needed to get through this unprecedented period through the LA Opera Relief Fund. Those wishing to support LA Opera can go to

LA Opera Media Contact 
Vanessa Flores Waite
Director of Communications 

This project is generously supported by the National Endowment for the Arts and by a consortium of donors to LA Opera’s Contemporary Opera Initiative, chaired by Barry and Nancy Sanders.