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BWW Review: ADELAIDE FESTIVAL 2020: BREAKING THE WAVES at Adelaide Festival Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre

BWW Review: ADELAIDE FESTIVAL 2020: BREAKING THE WAVES at Adelaide Festival Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Friday 13th March 2020.

The opera, Breaking The Waves, with music by Missy Mazzoli and a libretto by Royce Vavrek, is based on Lars von Trier's controversial 1996 film of the same title. This production, directed by Tom Morris and conducted by Stuart Stratford, was premiered at the 2019 Edinburgh International Festival and features the original cast, orchestra, and chorus of Scottish Opera.

Mazzoli's music is sensational and superbly fitted to the ever-changing moods of the narrative and the emotions of the characters, carrying the audience along on a wave of atmospheric nuance. Her use of the orchestra in creating myriad subtle changes in accompaniment and in establishing scenes is inspired.

Set in a very restrictive Calvinist community on the Scottish Isle of Skye in 1970, Bess McNeill marries Jan Nyman, an oil rig worker, who returns to the rig after the wedding. Ten days before the end of his shift, they speak by telephone. She is impatient and prays that he can be with her now. He suffers a terrible accident, leaving him paralysed from the neck down, which brings him back to the island. She takes full blame for his accident, believing that her prayers were heard, and answered, but not as she intended.

He says that he cannot remember what it was like to make love, and asks her to find a man and have sex, then tell him all about it. This begins a series of sexual encounters with strangers that she believes is a bargain with her god to keep Jan alive and bring him back to full health, while his medical team tries to tell her that he is "up to the eyeballs" in medication and has no idea what he is saying. Her course of action puts her in opposition to her church and takes her into ever darker and riskier situations.

The role of Bess is sung by soprano, Sydney Mancasola, in a magnificent performance, highly charged with emotional intensity and embracing a very physically demanding character with strength and endurance.

Jan Nyman is sung by Australian baritone, Duncan Rock, exhibiting, before the accident, Jan's powerful, devoted love for Bess and, after the accident, presenting a .

Wallis Giunta plays Bess's closest friend, Dodo McNeill. Like Jan, she was an outsider who married into the community, but was soon widowed. Giunta gives a warm, sympathetic reading to the role.

There was excellent work from those in the smaller roles, too, with Byron Jackson as Jan's friend and best man, Terry, Francis Church and David Llyn, as the two most unpleasant sailors on the old ship, Elgar Llŷr Thomas, as Dr Richardson, Orla Boylan, as Bess's mother, and Freddie Tong, as the Councilman. The male chorus deserves a special mention, too, for some very fine vocal work, as well as portraying several very different groups of characters.

Soutra Gilmour's design, thirteen columns of varying height forming two sides of a square, with an open timber structure within the arms, mounted on a revolve, is coupled with Richard Howell's lighting and Will Duke's projections to very effectively create the many different scenes, from the church, to the hospital, to the oil rig, and a rusty old ship. Jon Nicholls sound design is highly effective.

The opera is greatly moving and will leave audiences talking about it well into the future. You still have a chance to see this before the Adelaide Festival comes to a close.

Photography, James Glossop.

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From This Author - Barry Lenny