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26 Jul 2024

Hamer Hall, Arts Centre Melbourne
100 St Kilda Road, Melbourne


Performed in English with surtitles.

Running time

Approximately 2 hours and 50 minutes, including one interval.

Please note

This production contains depictions of sexual violence.

Music by Missy Mazzoli
Libretto by Royce Vavrek
Based on the film by Lars von Trier

Presented under license by G. Schirmer, Inc., copyright owners.

By kind permission of Wise Music Group.

You have a golden heart, sometimes too golden, too good. And who am I to warn you of living a life too honest, too true?

Lars von Trier’s 1996 film about a young woman’s shocking sacrifices for her husband was an immediate sensation on its premiere, winning the Grand Prix at Cannes Film Festival. The story of the devout Bess McNeill, and the stormy Scottish Highland community she belongs to, resonates deeply with audiences and is now a powerful new opera for our times.

Bess has fallen for Jan, a handsome foreigner and oil rig worker. Soon after their wedding, Jan survives a serious accident that sees him paralysed. Bess’s marital vows and unwavering love are put to the test when her husband asks her to sleep with other men and tell him of her sexual activities. Jan’s request puts Bess at odds with her fiercely religious community, setting in motion a disastrous series of events.

As von Trier breaks open the extreme emotional possibilities of cinema, so does Missy Mazzoli with opera.

Dubbed by Time Out as “Brooklyn’s post-millennial Mozart”, Mazzoli is one of the most exciting composers working anywhere in the world. Her adaptation of von Trier’s film has been acclaimed as one of the 21st century’s best operas.

The film’s unsettling silence becomes a roar of emotion in Mazzoli’s score. The suffocating, revealing close-ups become richly textured arias.

Australian conductor Jessica Cottis and Melbourne Theatre Company Artistic Director Anne-Louise Sarks bring Bess’s story to life in this semi-staged production.

The cast is led by the superb Jennifer Black as Bess. Australian-raised baritone Duncan Rock plays Jan, reprising his acclaimed performance from the opera’s European premiere at Edinburgh International Festival.

“Savage, heartbreaking and thoroughly original”

Wall Street Journal

“The most startling and moving new American opera in memory”

Parterre Box

Cast & Creative

Royce Vavrek
Based on the film by
Lars von Trier
Anne-Louise Sarks
Marg Horwell
Lighting Designer
Dr Richardson
Sadistic Sailor
Young Sailor
Asher Reichman
Tenor solo
Missy Mazzoli

Meet Missy Mazzoli

The three-time Grammy nominee on her passion for opera, and bringing Breaking the Waves to the stage.

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Breaking the waves at Hamer Hall

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Childlike Bess finds love with the off-shore oil rigger, Jan, and they are married in the strict Calvinist church. While they receive the church elders’ blessings, Jan, a Norwegian, is viewed as an outsider. Bess takes her marriage vows seriously, and undergoes a sexual enlightenment with her new husband. It is only a matter of time before Jan must return to the rigs to work, forcing Bess into a deep depression. In conversations with God, Bess seeks answers and solace, and hopes that spiritual intervention will bring Jan home. Shortly thereafter, a near-fatal accident on the rig forces Jan to be rushed to emergency medical attention.

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