Review Roundup: West Edge Opera's BREAKING THE WAVES; What Did The Critics Think?

Review Roundup: West Edge Opera's BREAKING THE WAVES; What Did The Critics Think?

The final opera of the season is the West Coast Premiere of Breaking the Waves by Missy Mazzoli and Royce Vavrek with performances on Saturday, August 10 at 8:30, Friday, August 16 at 8:30 and Sunday, August 18 at 3:00. Based on a film by Lars von Trier, Breaking the Waves has been hailed as one of the best new operas of recent years. The opera premiered in Philadelphia in 2016 and had subsequent performances in New York in 2017.

The new production is directed by West Edge General Director Mark Streshinsky and conducted by Music Director, Jonathan Khuner. In the central role of Bess McNeill will be soprano Sara LeMesh. Sara is a new music specialist performing with several groups in the Bay Area and recently wowed West Edge fans at our annual gala, singing excerpts of György Ligeti and George Crumb. In the role of Jan Nyman, we are thrilled to present baritone Robert Wesley Mason who created the role of Starbuck in Jake Heggie's Moby Dick, performing the role at San Francisco Opera as well as on the Great Performances telecast. Dodo McNeill, Bess' sister-in-law, will be performed by mezzo-soprano Kindra Scharich who last appeared with the company in Monteverdi's Il Ritorno d'Ulisse in Patria in 2015. Tenor Alex Boyer, who was Alwa in our Lulu in 2015, will be Dr. Richardson. The opera will be performed in English with English surtitles.

3-Opera series tickets are priced from $129 to $339. Series ticket holders enjoy priority seating and a discount as well as easy exchanges. Single tickets are priced at $19-$125. All tickets may be purchased online at or by calling (510) 841-1903 (with the exception of the $19 Bronze tickets, which can only be purchased online.)

A not-for-profit performing arts organization, West Edge Opera, formerly Berkeley Opera was founded in 1979 by Richard Goodman. Music Director Jonathan Khuner led the company from 1994-2009, when he was joined by Mark Streshinsky as Artistic Director, now General Director. West Edge Opera looks at the art form through a new lens, re-imagining tradition to connect with a modern audience and create innovative experiences of the highest quality that respect the original spirit of the work.

Let's see what the critics have to say!

Joshua Kosman, SF Chronicle: Mezzo-soprano Kindra Scharich sang with plush immediacy as Bess' loving sister-in-law, Dodo, and soprano Kristin Clayton combined implacable steeliness and tonal beauty as Bess's censorious mother. Alex Boyer's lovely tenor lent poignancy and charm to the role of the English doctor who tends to both Jan and Bess, and there were fine contributions as well from Brandon Bell as Jan's co-worker and from Spencer Dodd as the patriarchal head of the church. The male chorus - looming, ominous, slipping in and out of Mazzoli's sepulchral harmonies - was excellent.

Steven Winn, SF Classical Voice: Like von Trier's controversial film, the operatic version of Breaking the Waves is frank about its subject matter. There's sexual violence, some nudity and euphemism-free dialogue. But there's nothing sensational or exploitive in any of it. Bess and Jan's phone-sex scene, for example, is so realistically done and musically terse that the listener feels both the power and limitations of fantasy in sex and human relations more broadly.

The Opera Tattler: The rest of the cast supported LeMesh well, nearly all the characters have many different sides and get to portray a range of emotions. From baritone Wes Mason, whose Jan is heartbreaking, to tenor Alex Boyer who plays Dr. Richardson with convincing sensitivity. Bass-baritone Brandon Bell is much needed comic relief as Jan's friend Terry in Act I, and shows a gentler side in Acts II and III. Soprano Kristen Clayton is imposing as Bess' mother Mrs. McNeill, but her love for her daughter is clear in the end. Most impressive is mezzo-soprano Kindra Scharich (pictured with Sara LeMesh, photograph by Cory Weaver) as sister-in-law Dodo McNeill. Her tender warmth and sturdy voice is persuasive.

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