An Opera About War with a Peace Message
By Iride Aparicio
Photos by: Pat Kirk
SAN JOSÉ, CA -- It may be paradoxical to use a war story to convey a message of peace, but not for SILENT NIGHT. That "peace" is the message of his opera, was what its composer KEVIN PUTS, told the audience, at a before-opening-night symposium at the CALIFORNIA THEATRE where the work is being presented by OPERA SAN JOSE, in its West Coast Premiere
First performed on November 12, 2011 at the Orday Center for the Performing Arts in St. Paul Minnesota, the two-act opera with music by PUTS and libretto by MARK CAMBELL is an assemblage of short stories of from WORLD WAR ONE, where all its characters, with the exception Anna Sorenson the opera singer, are soldiers from England, Germany and Scotland fighting each other in the war. The work is sung in English, Latin, German, French and Italian with English subtitles.
Opera is considered the greatest art form because of its blending of music, poetry, acting and singing. Drawing from Greek traditions and Medieval and Renaissance courtly entertainment, operas started in Italy in the 16th and 17th centuries. The first opera ever written was performed in 1597, it name was DAFNE and was created by JACOPO PERI.
Because it is an art, Operas follow rules. An unwritten one, is that an opera must have a love story at its core. As a new opera, SILENT NIGHT, does not follow the "rule"established by standard operas. Instead of being centered on love, SILENT NIGHT show us the hatred (leading to killing unkown people called "the enemy") that is created by war, which is interesting.
The first operas were stories of Greek myths, until MOZART with his opera buffa in three acts La Finta Semplice (The Feigned Simpleton 1768) became not only the first composer to write an opera using contemporary material but the first to “brake new ground” and, according to Opera analyst David Cairns, become assimilator, perfector and innovator. Without using contemporary material (The war it depicts was in 1914) SILENT NIGHT brakes new ground with its historical theme.
SILENT NIGHT continues braking ground by having its text (libretto) written by CAMPBELL, not written in verse form, but as prose with all the words in its dialogue being sung. One reason for this format is that poems are metrical, and the opera’s melodies need to adapt (fit) to the meter of the libretto) Another reason, for a versify libretto, is that Gender of the music written for an opera needs to match the mood of the action, express the feeling of the words and fit the meter of the individual poem (aria) and its length.
In SILENT NIGHT’ composer PUTS matched the mood of the action melodically and in his orchestrations, which are marvelos, but the music has no structure. It only follows the words. The work has a few songs we may define as arias, (one of them a beautiful love duet sang by ADAMS and DOUGHERTY, ) and other "arias" and masterful choruses, but most of the work is constructed with notes, not melodies, matching the words of the dialogue. Because of it, in spite that all the music is pleasant, and well orchestrated, we cannot remember it
SILENT NIGHT has a Prologue, two Acts, and ten Scenes. Five in each act. All change localities at a fast speed.
The sets represent indoor and outdoor localities: a theatre, rooms in a house, and different war fields, and bunkers, made realistic to our eyes, by the true-to-life set designs of STEVEN KEMP and his projections, enhanced by ALYSSA OANIA lighting.
Nikolaus Sprink (KIRK DOUGHERTY) and Anna Sorensen (JULIE ADAMS)
The opera plot is a war story constructed by glimpses of happenings in different soldiers’ lives while fighting in the trenches during WORLD WAR ONE. It also have a great love. The moving love story of opera singers, Nikolaus Sprink (KIRK DOUGHERTY) and Anna Sorensen (JULIE ADAMS) show in the photograph above, but the work is not centered on their love.
The opera opens with both singers singing in the stage of the Berlin Opera in the late summer of l914, and being forced to interrupt their duet after the announcement that war has been declared. Without they knowing it, the announcement will not only disrupt their careers but also their personal lives.
Another war story takes place in Scotland, inside of a church. when with dreams of heroism floating in his brain, William Dale (BRANCH FIELDS) encouraged his young brother Jonathan ( MASON GATES) to join him in the field and enlist in the army with him, as their priest Father Palmer (COLIN RAMSEY) looks on.
A third story takes place in an apartment when Madeleine, Audebert (KSENIA POPOVA) a young bride complains to her husband Lt. Audebert, (RICARDO RIVERA) that by going to war he is going to leave her alone when she is about to have their first child. Yet with dreams of glory, and singing a nationalistic song in their own language, the men go to war.
L-R RICARDO RIVERA, MATTHEW HANSCOM and GORDON KYLE
His very first battle in December 23, shows Nikolaus (DOUGHERTY) the horror of war and what war is really about after he stabs a man. He despairs. William (FIELDS) is shot. Jonathan(GATES)) his brother, crying for him, is forced to leave him laying in battle field.
The battles continue. We are shown other stories such as the story of Pochel.(BRIAN JAMES MYER) a barber by trade, who after cutting the hair of Audebert (RIVERA) tells his that he is only an hour walk from her mother’s home. He carries an alarm clock next to his heart (which shielded him from a bullet once) that rings at ten o’clock every morning to remind him of their daily breakfast with his mother when he was home. To visit his mother without being killed, he dresses like a German Soldier. Thinking that he is a German soldier, he is shot when he returns to his regiment.
On the evening of December 24 Christmas eve, in the battle trenches, where the Germans, the Scottish and the French soldiers are fighting each other, with the flashes of fire visible in the sky, and the blast of bombs in the background, a miracle happen in the battlefield. The opera depicts it in a touching scene. It is a miracle that really happened in the battle field. The miracle was true. It really happened during WORLD WAR ONE. Shortly after that, the opera ends in an empty stage, with the snow gently falling on the trenches.
While the opera is moving as it is, it leaves the audience waiting for the peace message, perhaps delivered in the crystalline voice of Sorensen (ADAMS) the opera singer, who after having experienced what she did, goes on a tour around Europe, singing an aria to Peace
Conducted by JOSEPH MARCHESO, and sang by the beautiful-sounding voices of Opera San Jose’s singers the production of SILENT NIGHT was wonderful.
The Opera’s composer KEVIN PUTS, is the winner of numerous prestigious awards including the 2012 Pulitzer prize for his debut opera SILENT NIGHT. His works have been commissioned, performed and recorded by leading ensembles and soloists throughout the world.
SILENT NIGHT commissioned and premiered by Minnesota Opera has been produced at Forth Worth Opera, Cincinnati, Opera, the Wexford Opera Festival, Calgary Opera, Montreal Opera and the Lyric opera of Kansas City. Atlanta Opera, Michigan Opera and Opera San Jose.
MARK CAMPBELL the librettist is one of the most in-demand librettists in opera today. He has written librettos for nine operatic works. As a lyricist he penned all the lyrics for Songs from an Unmade Bed the theatrical song cycle with music by l8 composers. (New York Theatre Workshop 2005) and the lyrics for musicals which include: And the Curtain Rises, The Audience, Splendora, Akin to name a few. Among his recordings is Grammy® nominated Volpone.
SILENT NIGHT will play at the California Theatre until February 26. To order tickets call the box office at 404-437-4450 or order them online at https://www.operasj.org/