Breaking the Waves


European premiere of Missy Mazzoli’s BREAKING THE WAVES at Edinburgh International Festival

The European premiere of Missy Mazzoli’s dark and daring opera, Breaking the Waves, took place at the 2019 Edinburgh International Festival. Co presented by Opera Ventures, Scottish Opera and Edinburgh International Festival, following the critically acclaimed production of Greek in 2017.

About Breaking The Waves

“More than anything else, Breaking the Waves is the story about the true nature of loyalty, faith and goodness. Our heroine Bess McNeil is constantly caught in a vortex of voices; her mother, sister-in-law, husband, minister and her God all have very strong, often contradictory, ideas of how she should behave. As a woman this scenario is very familiar to me; I often have the feeling that the acceptable path of female behaviour is razor-thing, that the actions and decisions that will satisfy society’s chorus of demanding voices are nearly impossible to maintain. Bess McNeil is a woman in an impossible situation with no choice but to carve out her own moral path. Her plight resonated loudly with me as a female creator and as a woman who watched all the other women in her family find agency and power as the world denied them of it.

When writing the screenplay for Breaking the Waves Von Trier set out to make a film in which every character acted in the way that he or she felt was the most “good”. No one in the film or the opera (with the exception of two comically sadistic bit roles) is out to hurt Bess, yet everything still falls apart. No one revels in her downfall - in fact we feel that the tragedy of her death is greater for the other characters than for the audience. Yes, there is violence (against men and women) and sex in this opera - it is an opera for adults that addresses some very dark themes - but it is ultimately a work about finding agency when society denies it of you; a piece about maintaining goodness and light in a dark world.”

Missy Mazzoli, January 2019

Why Breaking the Waves

Opera Ventures chose Breaking the Waves for its second opera production because of its outstanding score, brilliant storytelling and beautiful writing. 

Due to the emotive, powerful and informative nature of the piece, previous productions have received widespread praise, both for the quality and the emotions that the story stirs amongst its audience. 

Breaking the Waves is the ideal combination of an intriguing and captivating story, and an accessible and original score. It offers the perfect blend of theatre and opera, reaching new audiences across the globe, making opera more inclusive and accessible. 

Photo credit: Marylene Mey

Photo credit: Marylene Mey

Missy Mazzoli

Opera Ventures was delighted to work with Missy, a rising star as a Composer, for its acclaimed production of Breaking the Waves. She has previously had roles with Opera Philadelphia, Gotham Chamber Opera and Albany Symphony.

She premiered Breaking the Waves in Philadelphia in September 2016, to great acclaim. It was described as “among the best 21st-century operas yet” (Opera News). 

You can find out more about Missy and her work here

Royce Vavrek   You can find out more about Royce and his work at .

Royce Vavrek

You can find out more about Royce and his work at

US composer Missy Mazzoli talks about her process of writing Breaking the Waves and how much it means to her to have the opera coming to Edinburgh and the International Festival. Opera Ventures and Scottish Opera's production of Breaking the Waves is part of the 2019 Edinburgh International Festival.