Old Man & the Sea




Direction by Karmina Šilec, Libretto by Royce Vavrek, Choreographer Sidra Bell and Designer Dorian Silec, Produced by Beth Morrison Projects, Developed at Mass Moca. Commissioned by Arizona State University and Carolina Performing Arts.

The Old Man and the Sea | VIA Trailer from Beth Morrison Projects on Vimeo.


Based on the novel by Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and The Sea is an opera by Paola Prestini, Karmina Šilec, and Royce Vavrek that presents a dual track of storytelling by combining the Hemingway novel with original portraits of quotidian life to create a look at aging, legacy and our relationship to oceans. The work includes longtime collaborator and muse of Prestini, Jeffrey Zeigler as the featured cellist. Bringing to life the seminal characters of the novel are Armando Contreras as Santiago/Hemingway, Measha Brueggergosman as La Mar, Rodolfo Giron as Manolin, and Yvette Keong as La Virgen Cobre included as the wife, recast as La Virgen del Cobre, a goddess in Santería, the Afro-Caribbean faith, who was found floating on a wooden board off the coast of eastern Cuba in 1628. Themes of baseball, ecology, religion, and economy paint a conflict between progress and tradition, craft passion and exploitation, ultimately shedding contemporary perspectives on this timeless tale.

Lead commissioning support for The Old Man and the Sea was provided by ASU Gammage in association with Joan Cremin. Commissioned by Beth Morrison Projects, Carolina Performing Arts at the University of North Carolina, VisionIntoArt, Krannert Center of Performing Arts, and Jill & Bill Steinberg.

On the Opera...

"The nameless seas know all our secrets.  The Old Man and the Sea addresses the elemental substance of the sea as it plays through our lives, our stories, our reveries, our fluid imagination – linking poetic imagery and dreams. The material imagination of the sea allows us to de-objectify objects enabling us to dream and perceive the flow of the soul in the world. Water calls to see the depth and to see beyond. Her imagery impels us to seek a profound level of experience – depth feels like watery depth. The sea is a transitory element, its fluidity and pliability helps us understand the psychology of the unconscious."

- Karmina Šilec

"Old Man and the Sea is a story I've wanted to tell my whole life. Water has always played a role in my life-I've explored its power often, how it nurtures, heals, and separates. My father is an amateur yet devoted fisherman. In our unspoken and unmined relationship, I've wanted to understand his choices, his inner life, which I believe he has only told the sea. In Santiago, I see the characters from my life on the Mexican border; beings who unfairly weather the toughest of economic realities and who live with the cadence of nature and the elements in the purest of ways, in desert terrains as vast and empty as any ocean. These conversations at sea are elemental, and offer a glimpse into humanity in its purest form."

- Paola Prestini



Ernest Miller Hemingway was an American novelist, short-story writer, and journalist. His economical and understated style and adventurous lifestyle and public image brought him admiration from later generations. When The Old Man and the Sea was published in 1952, Hemingway hadn’t written a significant literary work for over a decade. We see him here in moments of doubt as he creates his masterpiece.


Santiago is an elderly Cuban fisherman who has gone eighty-four days without catching a fish. He is a simple, uneducated man whose years of strength and youthful energy are well behind him. He lives in a small shack on the coast, eats simply, and sleeps on a bed of newspapers. Hemingway based Santiago on his fishing buddy Gregorio Fuentes. Like Santiago, Fuentes was gaunt and thin, had blue eyes, and had a long, battle-scarred history as a fisherman. Fuentes was the captain of Hemingway’s boat and the two frequently talked about the novel.


The owner of the Cuban bar Hemingway frequented, El Floridita. It’s in his favourite place that he would come to drink daiquiris after he had finished writing for the day. In her fifties, La Mar (a nickname) has seen the world. She plays into Hemingway's imagination by role playing the characters he is writing, such as Marlene Dietrich and Santiago himself. She is his friend.


An adolescent Cuban boy who has fished with Santiago since he was a child, Manolin is Santiago's devoted apprentice. He cares for Santiago in his old age, and encourages him in his fishing even though Manolin's parents have forced Manolin to seek out a "luckier" employer. In the bar tale, he is a young lost man who admires Hemingway, and visits the bar too often.


A goddess in Santería, the Afro-Caribbean faith, who was found floating on a wooden board off the coast of eastern Cuba in 1628.


Amplifies the story by being the elements: from cocktail makers to bearing witnesses to the storytelling onstage.


Opera / 90 minutes


soprano, mezzo, tenor, baritone, bass, chorus, cellist, percussion, and small ensemble 3-5, electronics and foley. Karmina Šilec and Royce Vavrek, libretto

Funders and Partners


"Paola Prestini’s “The Old Man and the Sea” is an opera of layers. Voices evolve into otherworldly soundscapes as cello and percussion deliver a call-and-response that tugs on our ears like receding waves underfoot. Characters meld into one another as their roles collide and coalesce. Themes cascade together even as they bridge disparate musical motifs ... layers flowed into a swirling gyre of fate, dreams and emotion worthy of the dark blue depths they plumb."