Religion, paralysis and sex — these are not story elements seen in traditional opera, but composer Missy Mazzoli is certainly breaking new ground in her latest work — “Breaking the Waves" — a three-act opera based on the 1996 Academy Award-nominated film by Lars von Trier. Set in the Scottish highlands in the early 1970s, it tells the story of the deeply religious Bess, who is asked by her recently paralyzed husband to seek other lovers. Mazzoli chatted with us during a rehearsal break at the Kimmel Center about bringing “Breaking the Waves” to the stage, the inspiration behind the score and her favorite places to hang out in Philly.
When did you decide to transform “Breaking the Waves” into an opera?
My librettist, Royce Vavrek, suggested that we adapt this into an opera. It’s such a brilliant film with such a particular visual language. While we follow the story closely, the whole experience is very different from watching the film.
What makes it different?
So much of the power and intensity of the film comes from extreme closeups of the actors’ faces. How do we create the feeling of a closeup in an opera? It’s really the music that has the intimacy to do that. There’s no real score to “Breaking the Waves,” the film. There’s some music but it’s '70s rock. The music [in the opera] illuminates the psychology and inner life of a character. The character can say one thing but the music can allude to something different.