CPA Series

The Old Man and the Sea

February 10, 2024
8 PM

Tickets from $34.40. Discounts available. See details below.

Get ready to be swept away by The Old Man and the Sea, a captivating new opera from Paola Prestini, Royce Vavrek, and Karmina Šilec. This original production from acclaimed contemporary opera company Beth Morrison Projects reimagines Hemingway’s iconic story from a fresh perspective, diving into questions of aging, legacy, and our society’s relationship with the mighty ocean. The opera spotlights longtime collaborators and muses of Prestini, including Jeffrey Zeigler as the featured cellist and opera star Nathan Gunn in the title role.

The cast, which includes a choir, brings new life to the novel’s enduring characters: Santiago, Manolin, and Santiago’s wife, recast here as the Virgen del Cobre, a goddess in Santería, the Afro-Carribbean faith. Themes of baseball, ecology, religion, and economy run throughout, painting a vivid picture of the clash between progress and tradition.

Don’t miss this contemporary take on a timeless tale. Buy tickets today!


Tickets available from $34.40. $10 UNC-Chapel Hill student tickets available with valid UNC One Card. Additional discounts available. Limits apply. Visit our FAQ page for details.


  • Runtime: TBD
  • Intermission: TBD
  • Additional information: Visit our FAQ page.


Commissioned by Arizona State University Cultural Affairs and its division of ASU Gammage, Beth Morrison Projects, VisionIntoArt, Carolina Performing Arts at the University of North Carolina, and Jill & Bill Steinberg. Developed by Beth Morrison Projects & ASU Gammage. Produced by Beth Morrison Projects. The commissioning of Paola Prestini for The Old Man and the Sea received funding from OPERA America’s Opera Grants for Women Composers program supported by Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation. Additional support provided by New York State Council on the Arts with the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature.


Paola Prestini, Composer

Through an illustrious career being equal parts creator and connector, composer Paola Prestini is known both for her “otherworldly…outright gorgeous” music (The New York Times), as well as the “visionary-in-chief” (Time Out New York) and Co-Founder/Artistic Director of the non-profit music organization National Sawdust. As the Wall Street Journal says, many recognize Prestini for “pushing the boundaries of classical music through collaborations.” Over 25 large scale artistic works are the result of Prestini joining forces with conservationists, poets, virtual reality film directors, astrophysicists, and puppeteers. Her independent streak was forged by creating her own multimedia visions during her early days with VisionIntoArt, the collective she co-founded while at the Juilliard School. Now, she balances co-creating independent dream projects with a stream of unique commissions completing her mission to keep her curiosity and learning a constant and evolving force. The values and processes in her daily work as an artist are at the heart of the regenerative systems she has put in place at National Sawdust.


For her efforts, she has made a considerable imprint on the artistic ecosystem: her accolades include being named as one of the “Top 100 Composers in the World” (NPR), one of the “Top 30 Professionals of the Year” (Musical America), one of the “Top 35 Female Composers in Classical Music” (The Washington Post), and Brooklyn Magazine’s 2019 list of “influencers of Brooklyn culture…in perpetuity” alongside household names like Chuck Schumer and Spike Lee. Prestini’s music has been commissioned and performed by the Banff Centre, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Barbican Centre, Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, The Los Angeles Philharmonic, The Los Angeles Opera, The Orchestre Metropolitain, The Spoleto Festival Due Mondi, and The New York Philharmonic, among others.

Recent highlights include performances with the German based vocal group Sjaella, and the theatrical premiere Houses of Zodiac, a multimedia poem for cello for Jeffrey Zeigler, with film by Murat Eyuboglu and dance by Butoh star Dai Matsuoka and NYCB soloist Georgina Pazcoguin, which currently is in exhibit at The Broad Museum and will go on to Romaeuropa this fall.

As part of her commitment to equity and mentoring the next generation of musical artists, she started the Hildegard Competition, for emerging female, trans, and non-binary composers, and the Blueprint Fellowship in partnership with the Juilliard School and the composition department in collaboration with National Sawdust. Prestini is co-artistic director at the production company VisionIntoArt which produces her large-scale visions.  She was a 2021 Paul Fromm Resident in Composition at the American Academy of Rome and a 2021 Sundance Interdisciplinary fellow and her honors include two ASCAP awards, the 2019 Clocktower Award by MASS MoCA in a gala honoring her and artists Nick Cave and Bob Faust, and fellowships from the Sundance Institute as well as Paul & Daisy Soros. She has been granted residencies at MASS MoCA, The Park Avenue Armory, The Watermill Center, Florida’s Hermitage Artist Retreat, Wyoming’s Ucross Foundation, and LMCC Governor’s Island. Passionate about education, she has partnered with the New York Philharmonic and Carnegie Hall to teach at inner city schools in New York, and has worked with children in Italy, Africa, and Mexico, as well as with El Sistema in Venezuela.

Paola Prestini’s music is released on National Sawdust Tracks, Innova, Tzadik Records, Bright Shiny Things, Six Shooter Records, and Outhere Music. She is a graduate of The Juilliard School, and was born in Italy. She currently makes her home in Brooklyn with her son Tommaso and her husband, the cellist Jeffrey Zeigler.

About Royce Vavrek, Librettist

Royce Vavrek is a Canada-born, Brooklyn-based librettist and lyricist who has been called “the indie Hofmannsthal” (The New Yorker) a “Metastasio of the downtown opera scene” (The Washington Post), “an exemplary creator of operatic prose” (The New York Times), and “one of the most celebrated and sought after librettists in the world” (CBC Radio). His opera “Angel’s Bone” with composer Du Yun was awarded the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Music.


With composer Missy Mazzoli he wrote “Song from the Uproar,” premiered by Beth Morrison Projects in 2012, and subsequently seen in multiple presentations around the country. Their second opera, an adaptation of Lars von Trier’s “Breaking the Waves,” premiered at Opera Philadelphia, co-commissioned by Beth Morrison Projects, and directed by James Darrah to critical acclaim in September of 2016. The work won the 2017 Music Critics Association of North America award for Best New Opera and was nominated for Best World Premiere at the 2017 International Opera Awards. A new production premiered at the Edinburgh International Festival in the summer of 2019, produced by Scottish Opera and Opera Ventures, helmed by Tony Award-winning director Tom Morris and earned star Sydney Mancasola a coveted Herald Angel Award for her performance. Their next opera, an adaptation of Karen Russell’s short story “Proving Up,” was commissioned and presented by Washington National Opera, Opera Omaha and The Miller Theatre in 2018, was a finalist for the MCANA Best New Opera Award of that year. They are currently developing a grand opera for Opera Philadelphia and the Norwegian National Opera based on an original story by two-time Governor General’s Award-winning playwright Jordan Tannahill, as well as an adaptation of George Saunders’ Booker Prize-winning novel “Lincoln in the Bardo” for The Metropolitan Opera. 

Teaming up with Swedish composer Mikael Karlsson, Royce wrote the story and text for two dance projects, “Crypto,” choreographed by Guillaume Côté for Côté Dance and “Evidence of It All,” choreographed by Drew Jacoby for SFDanceworks, featuring narration by the Academy Award-nominated actress Rosamund Pike. They are currently developing two grand operas: an adaptation of Lars von Trier’s “Melancholia” to premiere at the Royal Swedish Opera in 2023, and “Fanny and Alexander,” working alongside creative partner Ingmar Bergman, Jr. to musicalize his late father’s classic film for La Monnaie de Munt in 2024, in a production to be directed by Ivo van Hove. Both operas are to feature renowned mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter, for whom Mikael and Royce wrote the song cycle “So We Will Vanish,” premiered by the Swedish Chamber Orchestra in 2021 to critical acclaim.  

His collaboration with composer David T. Little led Heidi Waleson of the Wall Street Journal to proclaim them “one of the most exciting composer-librettist teams working in opera today.” In April of 2016 they premiered their first grand opera, “JFK,” at Fort Worth Opera, a co-commission with American Lyric Theater and Opéra de Montréal that was called “ravishing” (Opera News), earning a ten-star review in Opera Now Magazine. This followed the success of their first opera, “Dog Days,” which received its world premiere in September of 2012 at Peak Performances @ Montclair, in a production co-produced by Beth Morrison Projects and directed by American maverick Robert Woodruff. The work was celebrated as the Classical Music Event of the year by Time Out New York and a standout opera of recent decades by The New York Times. They are currently developing an original work for the Metropolitan Opera through the Met/LCT commissioning program. 

Royce has also worked extensively with composer Paola Prestini, first on the song cycle “Yoani,” inspired by the blog posts of Yoani Sanchez, and then on “The Hubble Cantata,” a virtual reality oratorio produced by VisionIntoArt/National Sawdust in association with Beth Morrison Projects. They recently presented the workshop premiere of “Silent Light,” an opera based on the Cannes Jury Prize-winning film by Carlos Reygadas at the Banff Centre for Creativity, a collaboration with the director Thaddeus Strassberger, and are currently working on a new opera inspired by Ernest Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea.” They are also developing “Film Stills,” a project for mezzo-soprano Eve Gigliotti that dramatizes four of Cindy Sherman’s iconic photographs through musical monologues composed by Paola, Missy Mazzoli, Nico Muhly, and Ellen Reid, and directed by R.B. Schlather. Royce and Paola’s collaboration can be further heard on the AIDS Quilt Songbook: Sing for Hope recording, where their song “Union,” as sung by Isabel Leonard, is featured. 

In 2014 Royce premiered “27,” his first collaboration with composer Ricky Ian Gordon, at the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis. Created for renowned mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe, the work brought to life Gertrude Stein’s famous salon at 27 rue de Fleurus in Paris. Mark Ray Rinaldi of the Denver Post wrote that the opera “tells a great American story, about Gertrude Stein, as well as opera in the 21st century.” The opera was subsequently presented by Pittsburgh Opera, MasterVoices at New York City Center, Michigan Opera Theater, Opéra de Montréal and Opera Las Vegas. In 2017 their adaptation of Gail Rock’s Christmas classic “The House Without a Christmas Tree” for Houston Grand Opera was premiered to critical acclaim. 

Other recent and upcoming projects include “Strip Mall” with Matt Marks for the Los Angeles Philharmonic; “Epistle Mass” with Julian Wachner for Trinity Wall Street, “Midwestern Gothic” with Josh Schmidt for Signature Theatre, Virginia; “Naamah’s Ark” with Marisa Michelson for MasterVoices; “O Columbia” with Gregory Spears for HGOco; “Knoxville: Summer of 2015” with Ellen Reid for the University of Tennessee, Knoxville and National Sawdust; “The Wild Beast of the Bungalow” with Rachel Peters for Oberlin Conservatory; “Jacqueline” with Luna Pearl Woolf for Tapestry New Opera; “Adoration” (based on the film by Atom Egoyan) with Mary Kouyoumdjian for Beth Morrison Projects; “The Cremation of Sam McGee” with Matthew Ricketts, supported by a grant from the Canada Council for the Arts; and “Agnes” with Daníel Bjarnason for the Icelandic Opera.  

Royce is co-Artistic Director of The Coterie, an opera-theater company founded with Tony-nominee Lauren Worsham. He holds a BFA in Filmmaking and Creative Writing from Concordia University’s Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema in Montreal and an MFA from the Graduate Musical Theater Writing Program at New York University. He is an alum of American Lyric Theater’s Composer Librettist Development Program. 

Karmina Šilec, Director

Karmina Šilec has brought freshness and originality to the world of music and theatre. As a theatre director, conductor, set and costume designer, and composer, she has projects with various companies, drama and opera houses, festivals, and ensembles worldwide. She has developed a unique artistic concept: choregie – new music theatre, which focuses on the creation process that brings the musical notion of composing to the theatrical aspects of performing and staging. She is the artistic director of the world-renowned Carmina Slovenica and of New Music Theatre Choregie.

learn more

Each new project signed by Karmina Šilec is an expedition into the field of the unknown and the unexplored. Her projects are provocative, daring; her ideas break taboos, those of the society as well as of music. Šilec does not shy away from politically charged material. Her diverse range demonstrate a broad range of thematic concerns that are driven by the need to respond to current social and political transformations. Her works are loci for debate, contestation, and provocation. She foregrounds stories, situations, and issues that are all too often overlooked, suppressed, or ignored and tries to contribute to the acceptance of the Otherness, to integrate the marginalized, to transform, and to heal. In her creative process, Šilec is interested in the things that do not only have an unambiguous meaning. Different elements (movement, music, word, the visual) are merged into an emancipated composition and the fusion gives various semantic directions. She created a whole range of conceptual, stylistically and thematically perfected projects, among them, BABA, Threnos (for the Throat), Toxic Psalms, Evergreen, Fauvel, Placebo, Vampirabile, Scivias, Spixody, Who would think that the snow falls, Vertical thoughts, Stripsody, CS Light, From Time Immemorial…, Rusalki, Pleading for words, etc. The dimensions of these projects surface in multi-disciplinary stage performances which logically complement the musical tissue and permeate with the basic elements of the concept of Choregie.

Her ensembles and projects have been performed on stages and festivals of the highest esteem, such as the Ruhrtriennale (DE), Prototype Festival NYC (USA), Festival d’Automne á Paris (FR), Holland Festival (NL), Moscow Easter Festival (RU), ISCM – World Music Days, Dresdner Musikfestspiele (DE), Golden Mask (RU), Melbourne Festival (AU), Operadagen Rotterdam (NL), RadialSystem Berlin (DE), Auditorium, Rome (IT), Steierischer Herbst (AT), Tokyo Metropolitan Art Space (JP), St. Petersburg Philharmonic Hall (RU), Teatro Colon (AR), Esplanade (SG), Polyfollia (FR), Theatre Basel (CH), Hong Kong Cultural Centre (HK), Teresa Carreño Theater (VE), Z Space (USA), etc. They were also broadcasted by EBU (European Broadcasting Union) and Eurovision.

Among her awards and distinctions are: the Music Theatre Now International Award 2021; the Music Theatre Now award in the category Music Beyond Opera (by the International Theatre Institute), 2008; the Sterija Award for original theatre music, SRB 2018; the International Robert Edler Prize, for exceptional contribution to the world choir movement, DE 2004; the Europe Theatre Prize – Theatrical Realities (EPTR) nomination, 2017; the Golden Mask Theatre Award (together with Heiner Goebbels and Carmina Slovenica), RU 2012; the Carpe Vitam − Open Mind Stockholm Award, SE 2005 ; the Prešeren Award; the highest Slovenian award for achievements in art, SI 2000; the main Ford Award for the preservation of natural and cultural heritage; the Harvard University / Radcliffe Institute for advanced study Fellowship, USA, 2018; the Hewlett Foundation 50 Arts Commission, 2018 recipient for theatre, music theatre and spoken word; the STIAS Institute for advanced study artist in residence, Stellenbosch University, ZA, 2022; the Teatarfest award for the most experimental theatre work, BA 2009; the Con tempus – Platform for Contemporary Art Award, AT 2012; and more than 20 of the highest international awards at international competitions and others.

As a writer Karmina Šilec has published BABA: Catalog and Colossal Balkan Fiction (fiction/essays, Publishing Sanje (SI), 2021), Nolite tacere – Translated in music (essays, Carmina Slovenica (SI), 2013), and DERT endemic songs (poems, Carmina Slovenica (SI), 2021). As a conductor, she has published more than 20 CD and several DVDs.

Beth Morrison Projects

Beth Morrison Projects (BMP) is one of the foremost creators and producers of new opera-theatre and music theatre, with a fierce commitment to leading the industry into the future, cultivating a new generation of talent, and telling the stories of our time.


Founded by “contemporary opera mastermind” (LA Times) Beth Morrison, who was honored as one of Musical America’s Artists of the Year/Agents of Change in 2020, BMP has grown into “a driving force behind America’s thriving opera scene” (Financial Times), with Opera News declaring that the company, “more than any other … has helped propel the art form into the twenty-first century.”

Operating across the US and internationally, with offices in Brooklyn and Los Angeles, BMP’s unique model offers living composers the support, guidance, and freedom to experiment, allowing them to create singularly innovative and impactful projects. Since forming in 2006, the company has commissioned, developed, produced and toured over 50 works in 14 countries around the world, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning chamber operas Angel’s Bone and p r i s m. 

In 2013, BMP co-founded the PROTOTYPE Festival with HERE Arts Center, which has been called “utterly essential” (The New York Times), “indispensable” (The New Yorker), and “one of the world’s top festivals of contemporary opera and theater” (Associated Press).

Subscribe to Our Email List

Sign Up