Quite an epiphany, the sound of church bells over the empty sea at the close of Breaking the Waves, and after the rough stuff that comes before, you need it. Drawn from the movie that earned Lars von Trier the Golden Palm at Cannes in 1996, the adaptation by Missy Mazzoli (music) and Royce Vavrek (libretto) had critics at Opera Philadelphia’s world premiere in 2016 scrambling for superlatives. Directed in spare yet piercing style by James Darrah, the production is showing now on the company’s streaming channel.
In roles created on film by Emily Watson and Stellan Skarsgård, Kiera Duffy appears as Bess, a needy waif who talks to God and gets harsh answers, and John Moore is Jan, the roustabout who nearly perishes on his offshore oil rig during what ought to be their honeymoon. Immobilized in his hospital bed, Jan drives Bess to desperate, masochistic sex with other men, subsisting on the X-rated details.