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 librettist, playwright, musical theatre writer and filmmaker known for his collaborations with composers David T. Little, Missy Mazzoli and Ricky Ian Gordon, soprano Lauren Worsham, producers Beth Morrison and Lawrence Edelson, and conductor Alan Pierson. His work has been presented at or performed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Brooklyn Philharmonic, 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.

His recent commissions include operas for Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, Fort Worth Opera, Opera Philadelphia, Houston Grand Opera's HGOco 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.[1] 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."[2]


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.[3]

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 will premiere in Houston in the fall of 2015 in a production staged by Kevin Newbury and conducted by Timothy Myers.[4]


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.[5] The work premiered on June 14, 2014 under the baton of Michael Christie in a production directed by James Robinson.[6]

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."[7]

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.[8] Alan Pierson, the conductor of the performance at Zankel Hall, returned to conduct Newspeak for the world premiere production in New Jersey.[9]

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[10] in February 2012 was followed by the release of the original cast recording on New Amsterdam Records[11] the following November.

Angel's Bone[edit]

A one-act opera from composer Du Yun about fallen angels who are captured by a human couple and forced into prostitution to earn back the feathers that were cut from their backs. Hai-Ting Chin and Peter Tantsits were featured in the cast under the direction of Habib Azar; the International Contemporary Ensemble played the world premiere at the Mann Center for the Performing Arts.[12]

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.[13] The second piece, Strip Mall, was premiered by the Los Angeles Philharmonic in April 2013.[14] A third installment, "Bluetooth Islands," was premiered by the Brooklyn Philharmonic.

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 while surfing wikipedia for ideas. The opera was written in bits and pieces, showcased by The Coterie, Beth Morrison Projects, and American Lyric Theater in a handful of concerts in New York. The duet "Evening Furnace" turned out to be a real standout, full of shining beauty and eerie sexual innuendo. New York City Opera's VOX 2011 showcased an arrangement of several numbers at Le Poisson Rouge (NYC).[15] Also in 2011, Yale Institute for Music Theater presented a complete workshop performance with two pianos, partially staged over two nights.[16] This pivotal workshop let by Thaddeus Strassberger helped to unify and tighten the dramaturgical elements of the opera. After several ongoing workshops with Center City Opera, a fully orchestrated version of Maren was commissioned by the director Andrew Kurtz for his new summer festival. In the summer of 2015, his new opera company Vulcan Lyric gave the premiere run of Maren at the Prince Music Theater in Philadelphia.[17]

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. ^ Schedule
  2. ^ "Missy Mazzoli". 
  3. ^ "Fort Worth Commissions JFK Opera". NBC 5 Dallas-Fort Worth. 
  4. ^ Opera News Desk. "Houston Grand Opera Releases Schedule of Events for 2015-16 Season". 
  5. ^ TOKY Branding + Design. "Opera Theatre of Saint Louis Announces Repertory for 2014 Festival Season". 
  6. ^ "2014 Opera Season", St. Louis Beacon
  7. ^ "Dog Days, New Opera at Peak Performances in Montclair", New York Times, 4 October 2012
  8. ^ "Little, David T Scenes from Dog Days Commission - Carnegie Hall". 
  9. ^ "New Amsterdam Presents". New Amsterdam Presents. 
  10. ^ "Missy Mazzoli: Song from the Uproar". Time Out New York. 
  11. ^ "New Amsterdam Records". New Amsterdam Records. 
  12. ^ "International Contemporary Ensemble". 
  13. ^ "Mizzou New Music Summer Festival: Wrap". NewMusicBox. 
  14. ^ "Matt Marks". 
  15. ^!/story/134319-new-york-city-opera-webcast-vox-second-stage/
  16. ^
  17. ^
  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. 
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  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. 
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