Royce Vavrek

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Royce Vavrek
Born Grande Prairie, Alberta, Canada
Residence Brooklyn, New York; Grande Prairie, Alberta
Nationality Canadian
Occupation librettist, bookwriter, lyricist, filmmaker
Years active 2002–present
Notable work Dog Days, 27, Breaking the Waves

Royce Vavrek is a Canadian-born Brooklyn-based librettist, playwright, musical theatre writer and filmmaker known for his collaborations with composers David T. Little, Missy Mazzoli, Ricky Ian Gordon and Du Yun, soprano Lauren Worsham, producers Beth Morrison and Lawrence Edelson, and conductors Steven Osgood, Julian Wachner and Alan Pierson. His work has been presented at or performed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Brooklyn Philharmonic, Los Angeles Opera, Brooklyn Academy of Music, Carnegie Hall, New York City Opera, The Kitchen, Alarm Will Sound, International Contemporary Ensemble, Opera America, American Lyric Theater, Beth Morrison Projects, Brooklyn Youth Chorus and Peak Performances @ Montclair, among others.

Vavrek studied piano and musical composition in high school and also sang in a chorus, but was even more drawn to writing for theatre, writing some 17 plays at that time, and filmmaking.[1] But following an undergraduate degree in filmmaking from Concordia University and a master's from New York University in musical theater writing,[2] he enrollled in the American Lyric Theater’s Composer Librettist Development Program which established his career as an opera librettist.[1]

His recent commissions include operas for Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, Fort Worth Opera, Opera Philadelphia, Houston Grand Opera and the Prototype Festival, along with a musical for Signature Theater. Vavrek's filmmaking credits include From Sky and Soil, which was created as part of the Corus Young Filmmakers Initiative for broadcast on the W Network, through a prize administered by the Canadian Film and Television Production Association.

Opera and Music Theater[edit]

Breaking the Waves[edit]

An adaptation of Lars von Trier's 1996 Cannes Grand Prix-winning film, Breaking the Waves is being developed with composer Missy Mazzoli.[3] The first aria from the piece was presented as part of the Brooklyn Academy of Music's 2013 Next Wave Festival with soprano Marnie Breckenridge singing the excerpt entitled "His Name is Jan."[4]


Vavrek's follow-up to Dog Days with David T. Little is a grand opera commissioned by Fort Worth Opera and American Lyric Theater. It focuses on the night before John F. Kennedy's assassination in 1963. The work is set to premiere in Fort Worth, Texas in 2016.[5]

Angel's Bone[edit]

A one-act opera from composer Du Yun about fallen angels who are captured by a human couple and enslaved, was given its premiere in January of 2016 as part of the PROTOTYPE Festival. The original cast included Abigail Fischer, Kyle Pfortmiller, Kyle Bielfield, and Jennifer Charles of the band Elysian Fields. Michael McQuilkin directed, with Julian Wachner conducting Novus NY.[6]

O Columbia[edit]

A collaboration with composer Gregory Spears, O Columbia is an opera inspired by the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster which occurred on February 1, 2003. The work was commissioned by Houston Grand Opera's HGOco and premiered in Houston in the fall of 2015 in a production staged by Kevin Newbury and conducted by Timothy Myers.[7]

Maren of Vardø: Satan's Bride[edit]

A fantasy based on true-life accounts of witch trials in 17th-Century Norway, Vavrek's first full length opera with composer Jeff Myers was started in 2008, with early material showcased by The Coterie, Beth Morrison Projects, New York City Opera and American Lyric Theater in a handful of concerts in New York. In the summer of 2015 Vulcan Lyric gave the premiere run of Maren at the Prince Music Theater in Philadelphia.[8]


An opera about Gertrude Stein's Parisian salons with composer Ricky Ian Gordon, this was written for mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe and commissioned by Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.[9] The work premiered on June 14, 2014 under the baton of Michael Christie in a production directed by James Robinson.[10]

Dog Days[edit]

The first full-length collaboration with composer David T. Little yielded the three-act opera Dog Days, which premiered at Peak Performances @ Montclair State in association with Beth Morrison Projects on September 29, 2012, in a staging by director Robert Woodruff. The work starred Lauren Worsham as Lisa, a 13-year-old girl who befriends a man in a dog suit begging for scraps during a post-apocalyptic wartime scenario. Steve Smith of The New York Times said of Vavrek's libretto: "Profanities pop like a string of firecrackers in Mr. Vavrek’s libretto, yet its poetry is indelible and affecting."[11]

The piece began as a commission from Carnegie Hall when Little was chosen to compose a 20-minute work of music theater, as part of Dawn Upshaw and Osvaldo Golijov's workshop in collaboration with singers from Bard Conservatory.[12] Alan Pierson, the conductor of the performance at Zankel Hall, returned to conduct Newspeak for the world premiere production in New Jersey.[13]

Song from the Uproar[edit]

With Missy Mazzoli, Vavrek completed the libretto to Mazzoli's first opera about the life of Swiss explorer and writer Isabelle Eberhardt. The production featured films by Stephen Taylor, direction by Gia Forakis, and was produced by Beth Morrison Projects. A sold-out run at The Kitchen[14] in February 2012 was followed by the release of the original cast recording on New Amsterdam Records[15] the following November.

Strangers in Many Ways[edit]

Vavrek's largest collaboration with Matt Marks is a collection of individually commissioned works that revolve around the Frick Family living in suburban Los Angeles. The first piece, A Song for Wade (This is Not That Song) was premiered by ensemble Alarm Will Sound in 2011 at the Mizzou New Music Summer Festivall.[16] The second piece, Strip Mall, was premiered by the Los Angeles Philharmonic in April 2013.[17] A third installment, "Bluetooth Islands," was premiered by the Brooklyn Philharmonic.

One-Act Operas[edit]

Among the libretti Vavrek has written for one-act operas are Vinkensport, or the Finch Opera (David T. Little, composer),[18] Sex Objects (Matt Marks, composer),[19] Nora at the Altar-Rail (Jay Anthony Gach, composer),[20] ...of the Flesh (Jay Anthony Gach, composer),[21] Unsaid in a Field of Wildflowers (Kristin Hevner, composer),[22] The Hunger Art (Jeff Myers, composer),[23] Polka (Patrick Soluri, composer),[24] Wednesday Before Last (Kristin Hevner, composer),[25] and Bully Pulpit (Kristin Hevner, composer).[26]

Concert Works[edit]


Vavrek collaborated with composer Jeff Myers to create a concert piece for the ensemble loadbang. The lyric takes the metaphor of an island and applies it to the dynamics of a distant relationship. Part of Myers' Book of Islands, E---- physically sets the singer apart from his ensemble, exacerbating the isolation of the narrator. Loadbang premiered E---- at the National Opera Center in May 2015.[27]

The Hubble Cantata[edit]

A collaboration with composer Paola Prestini, filmmaker Carmen Kordas and astrophysicist Mario Livio, the work was commissioned and premiered by Bay Chamber Concerts in Rockport, Maine on July 25, 2013, performed by members of the International Contemporary Ensemble and soloist Jessica Rivera.[28] The piece was subsequently expanded to include a choral component and presented with the Trinity Wall Street Choir as part of the Brooklyn Academy of Music's 2013 Next Wave Festival.[29]

Stoned Prince[edit]

A song cycle written with composer Hannah Lash, it explores a young red-headed monarch known for his partying, questionable Hallowe'en costumes and on-again, off again relationship with his girlfriend known only as "C." The show is being created for ensemble loadbang and will premiere at Symphony Space in New York City on April 8, 2013.[30]

Am I Born[edit]

The 30-minute work composed by David T. Little for soprano, children's chorus and orchestra, Am I Born, premiered as part of Brooklyn Village, a multi-media concert co-produced and presented by the Brooklyn Philharmonic, Brooklyn Youth Chorus and Roulette. Alan Pierson conducted the Brooklyn Philharmonic, soprano Mellissa Hughes and members of both the Brooklyn Youth Chorus and BYCA's Young Men's Ensemble.[31]


Matt Mehlan (of the band Skeletons) composed the 7-minute piece Canvas to a lyric by Vavrek, also commissioned for the multi-media concert "Brooklyn Village." The premiere featured soprano soloist Lauren Worsham, the Brooklyn Philharmonic and the BYCA's Young Men's Ensemble.[32]

The Coterie[edit]

With soprano Lauren Worsham, Vavrek is the co-founder and co-Artistic Director of downtown opera-theater company The Coterie. Through a series of concerts that often function as incubators for larger projects, the company has presented world premieres by many young operatic and musical theater composers including Rachel Peters, Jeff Myers, Kyle Jarrow, Paola Prestini, Cristian Amigo, Matt Marks, Mark Baechle, Christine Donkin, Joshua Schmidt, Julia Meinwald and Andrew Gerle. In December 2012, the company will premiere new works by Aaron Roche, Mel Marvin, Zach Redler, Aaron Gervais and Conrad Winslow alongside new projects from many returning contributors.[33] Among the many performers to lend their talents to the company are Tony Award-winner Chuck Cooper, Tony nominee Barbara Walsh, actress-singers Theresa McCarthy and Morgan James and actor-singers Greg Hildreth and Zachary James.[34][35]


Vavrek's play Motherless Pig was featured in the collective production of Menagerie by Sound and Fury Theatre in Edmonton, Alberta, in a production that garnered an Elizabeth Sterling Haynes Award nomination for Best Production by a Collective in 2002.[36] In a review for See Magazine, Gilbert Bouchard called the work a "deeply satirical, highly entertaining fable." In the same review he wrote: "With his sharp, crisp, witty script, Vavrek deconstructs identity politics without ever dipping into the pedantic or falling prey to either easy sentimentality or unvarnished pathos."[37]

In May 2009, Vavrek premiered lyrics in four original songs written for Mikhael Tara Garver's nonplay, a work loosely based on August Strindberg's A Dream Play. Songs include Pins and Needles composed by Matt Burns and Joy Son, and Et Cetera, Goodbye, My Little Lover, and Gravitylessness composed by Andrew Gerle.[38]

Selected filmmography[edit]

Film Year
Sacrifice 2003
Good Woman 2004 starring Marc Bouwer
From Sky and Soil 2005 Winner of the CFTPA Corus Young Filmmakers Initiative, 2004[39]
I Will Not Be Sad Anymore 2005 Winner of the Quebec Cooperative Filmmakers Initiative "No Sweat" Competition, 2005
Pig and Bear 2008 International screening as part of TELEGRAMS from the New Canadian Cinema


  1. ^ a b "So Many Juicy, Amazing Words: A Conversation with Royce Vavreck" by Frank J. Oteri, NewMusicBox, Published: January 1, 2016.
  2. ^ "The Kaleidoscopic World of Royce Vavrek" by Heidi Waleson, Opera News, Published: April 2015.
  3. ^ Schedule
  4. ^ "Missy Mazzoli". 
  5. ^ "Fort Worth Commissions JFK Opera". NBC 5 Dallas-Fort Worth. 
  6. ^
  7. ^ Opera News Desk. "Houston Grand Opera Releases Schedule of Events for 2015-16 Season". 
  8. ^
  9. ^ TOKY Branding + Design. "Opera Theatre of Saint Louis Announces Repertory for 2014 Festival Season". 
  10. ^ "2014 Opera Season", St. Louis Beacon
  11. ^ "Dog Days, New Opera at Peak Performances in Montclair", New York Times, 4 October 2012
  12. ^ "Little, David T Scenes from Dog Days Commission - Carnegie Hall". 
  13. ^ "New Amsterdam Presents". New Amsterdam Presents. 
  14. ^ "Missy Mazzoli: Song from the Uproar". Time Out New York. 
  15. ^ "New Amsterdam Records". New Amsterdam Records. 
  16. ^ "Mizzou New Music Summer Festival: Wrap". NewMusicBox. 
  17. ^ "Matt Marks". 
  18. ^
  19. ^ "Red-Thread Smirk". Matt Marks Music. 
  20. ^ "Nora at the Altar-Rail". Boston-International Contempo Festival ™. 
  21. ^
  22. ^ "Upcoming Events!". 
  23. ^ "One Act Chamber Operas". 
  24. ^ "Patrick Soluri - The Glass". 
  25. ^ "New York City Voice Lessons Caroline Selia". New York City Voice Lessons Caroline Selia. 
  26. ^
  27. ^
  28. ^ "Bay Chamber Concerts - A New Frontier - International Contemporary Ensemble". 
  29. ^ "BAM - 21c Liederabend, op. 3". 
  30. ^
  31. ^ "WQXR - New York's Classical Music Radio Station". 
  32. ^
  34. ^ BWW News Desk. "'The Coterie Un/Plugged, Volume One: Lauren Worsham and Friends' Premieres at the Canal Room, 2/22". 
  35. ^ "Cooper, McCarthy, James and Moore Will Sing for the Coterie at Joe's Pub". Playbill. 
  36. ^
  37. ^
  38. ^
  39. ^