Breaking the Waves (4 stars)

Breaking the Waves

credit: Ryan Buchanan

New opera from Missy Mazzoli and Royce Vavrek is a gripping adaptation of the controversial Lars von Trier film

Although there's quite a lot of it, Missy Mazzoli and Royce Vavrek's dark and tragic opera, Breaking the Waves – based on Lars von Trier's film of the same name – is not about sex. Indeed, it's not even really about love, although it is Bess McNeill's unending love for Jan, her new, and soon to be paralysed, husband which is the central catalyst for everything that goes on.

What it seems to be about is how the big things of life can so easily go horribly wrong, even with the best of intentions. Set in a close-knit Scottish island community, oppression of women was brilliantly played out by Scottish Opera's male chorus as judgemental church elders, po-faced in Soutra Gilmour's revolving set, magically lit by Richard Howell, which could be the kirk one moment or a ship, an oilrig or an evocative series of rock stacks the next. The innocent, faithful, trusting Bess, in a monumental and vocally soaring performance by soprano Sydney Mancasola, is flung into emotional and mental turmoil by everyone trying to get her to see sense. But whether it's Elgan Llŷr Thomas as the ever-professional doctor, or lack of understanding from her mother, appropriately stiffly played by Susan Bullock, Bess is left bereft of compassion and in a downward spiral as deep and dark as the winter Hebridean seas around her.

A couple of scenes with the excellent Duncan Rock as Jan felt overlong, but, for the most part, the drama is gripping in Tom Morris's taut direction, with so much of the colour and atmosphere coming from the light and shade of Mazzoli's wonderfully vivid score. From the first notes, there are the sounds of the weather, the waves, the landscape and traditional culture in a classy performance by an ensemble of Scottish Opera Orchestra soloists conducted by Music Director, Stuart Stratford.

King's Theatre, until 24 Aug, 7.15pm, £15–£35.

Breaking the Waves

  • 4 stars

Breaking the Waves is a wrenching moral drama about a woman’s twisted bargain with God. Based on Lars von Trier’s controversial film, US composer Missy Mazzoli’s opera won the 2017 Best New Opera Award at the Music Critics Association of North America and was shortlisted the same year for an International Opera Award.

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