Presented by Opera Ventures and Scottish Opera
Reviewed 14 March 2019
Breaking the Waves breaks the mold of traditional opera. It straddles lovelorn highs and apocalyptic lows in a style that is contemporary and unexpected for an opera. Cursing, sex scenes, vinyl record players – these are things I don’t expect in a three hour opera. But they mark the show out as something distinct and brave: an opera that wants to ask the serious questions of Lars von Triers’ original and modern film, while staying true to operatic traditions of masterful scoring and vocal performances.
The show tells the morally ambigious tale of Bess (Sydney Mancasola), a romantic tragic heroine, and her marriage to foreigner oil rig worker, Jan (Duncan Rock). Supported by Missy Mazzoli’s exquisite composition and performed with superb vocal skill, we watch as Bess struggles with her emeshment in her community’s conservative Calvinism and her anguish as religion and the real world continually act as barriers to her desired sublimation in love’s sickness. Neither possibilities are healthy, and both the prospect of escape and sublimation are set up as hopelessly impossible to achieve.
Bess’s reality is brutal, and this is reflected in the bleak, grey, rotating set. Made of concrete-like pillars, the set’s structures are only occasionally further furnished or transformed with innovative lighting techniques. Otherwise, the brutalist style affirms the tale’s sense of desolation. The structures remind me of the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin. The connotation and effect is haunting.
Bess could be a mystic, a madwoman, or an ordinary human being battling with the alienation of growing up in Scotland under institutionalised religion. Mancasola plays her with great commitment to the role. Bess is a character of extremes – her faith, her love, her goodness, her ecstasy. Mancasolacarries her complexity through the operatic delivery of her lines and masterfully avoids melodrama.
The opera is made for young people. I hope more youth can see it during its short run in Adelaide. It is experimental and ambiguous, but nonetheless narrative-based and linear. It is the perfect introduction to a whole new world of performing arts. What a pleasure to have the opportunity to see such innovation from Scotland on this side of the world.
Reviewed by Ana Obradovic
Rating out of 5: 5
Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre
Season: Until 15 March
Duration: 2 hrs 50 mins with interval
Tickets: $40 – $189