Old Man and the Sea


A new work based on Ernest Hemingway’s novel The Old Man and the Sea by Robert Wilson and Paola Prestini. Libretto by Royce Vavrek. A National Sawdust Projects production.


The work depicts twin threads: an operatic retelling of Old Man and the Sea, and Hemingway’s life and influences while writing the work. Structurally, the work oscillates between an operatic tableau, and a cello concerto. In addition to visual references and inspirational images from Old Man and the Sea, a number of subjects have been collected for the text of the 8 knee-plays including passages from Ezra Pound’s The Cantos, a letter of Hemingway’s to Marlene Dietrich, Nautical terms, Baseball statistics of the 1950s as well as prayers like the Our Father or the Hail Mary in Lucumí. A draft of the structure has been put together as a basis to continue on. The work has been in workshops at the Watermill Center for three years.

During the table workshop at Watermill from 2015 & 2016, a draft was made of the shape, structure and cast of the work. The opera will be approximately 90 minutes long and consist of 7 parts (music) with spoken knee-plays (no music) before and in between (total of 8). All characters are related to the Old man, reflecting different aspects of him.

There will be a mezzo soprano and baritone, a lead cellist (JEFFREY ZEIGLER), and four more singers for the principal roles. Apart from the singers, dancers will be included in the cast as well as two narrator figures. A full chorus of 40 singers will be placed behind the audience, then move towards the stage, at times walking through the water. The work will be multi-lingual with English and Spanish as main languages and the local dialect of the descendants of the African slaves on Cuba (Lucumí, a dialect of Yorùbá) as a third. Text ranges from Hemingway to Ezra Pound, and baseball statistics to star charts.

The stage will be placed facing the “sea” with the ocean as the main element of the “set” to be seen through the open frame of the proscenium. In front of the proscenium, there will be a platform for the narrator(s) traveling from left to right during the whole time span of the performance. There will be a circular gangway stretching out into the sea behind the stage.




I have tried to write Paradise Do not move

Let the wind speak that is paradise.

Let the Gods forgive what I have made

Let those I love try to forgive what I have made.



Old man, Cellist/Baritone, struggling against age, poverty, loneliness and morality to maintain his identity and dignity, reestablish his reputation in the community.


Counter tenor. Represents love, belief in Santiago, wants to learn from him.


Improviser. Gives Santiago directions and is in dialogue with his inner monologue. Can be wild and wicked.


Soprano. The wife is perpetually on a “mirador”. She looks to see for Santiago, and is now a ghost, folded away beneath his one clean shirt. She is a memory, a dislocated voice.


Mixed Chorus. Spirits, legends, slaves, fishermen and nature.


Dancer. This eighteen foot fish is a struggle, persistence, communion of man and nature, death.

Special thanks to the Mordant Family and Leila Straus for their commissioning support of the workshops for Old Man and the Sea.