The most acclaimed American opera is making its way to the Utah Opera in January 2020. Silent Night is a Pulitzer Prize-winning production based on Christian Carion’s 2005 screenplay Joyeux Noël, and composed by Kevin Putz, librettist Mark Campbell and directed by Tomer Zvulun.
The story behind the Opera:
“No one would do such things.” —W.C.
The horrific carnage and conditions of World War I, called “the war to end all wars,” was established in a series of hellish trenches occupied by troops along The Western Front, an area including parts of Belgium, north-eastern France and Luxembourg. The warring armies were separated by “no man’s land,” an area of scorched earth only 250 yards wide criss-crossed by barbed wire and water-filled shell holes where men were dying by the 1,000s among piles of decaying corpses.
This story is of the 1914 Christmas truce between the Allied or Entente Powers (Britain, France and Russia) and Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary and Turkey). Four years later in April of 1917, the US joined Allied forces.
To gain further insights into the Utah Opera’s current production, we were invited to interview a few of the cast members in their full costume as they recreated scenes and sang for us. I was also able to spend time with them individually. And, with their musical training and ability to project, we were “hushed” throughout due to the abundant volume from those who spend their lives to do just that. Opera being quite literally “musical theatre on steroids,” there were no problems with poor enunciation or audibility here.
“While some operas get you in the heart, this one gets into your head too,” explains operatic cast member Craig Irvin, who plays German Lt. Horstmayer. “Because of how the stage is set, you are able to witness what multiple characters are going through all at once.” As a German Lieutenant, Americans generally match the role of a “bad guy” but admits Kevin Puts and Mark Campbell brilliantly created his character to be complex and challenge that knee-jerk evil assumption. “At first his character may seem cold and you could easily tag him as a bad person,” Irvin explains, “However, later you realize his intention is to do his job as a German to the best of his abilities, which was ultimately to save the lives of his troops.”
Gabriel Preisser, who plays Lt. Gordon from Scotland mentioned, “As soldiers left their homes, they reassured their wives and families that they would be home soon and return as heroes.” Rather than a few months, the battles continued for over four years, with casualties in the millions. While we can’t re-play history like an opera production, Preisser asks, “What if, at the time of this Christmas truce, the war had ended?” And shared, “Friendships which occurred during this time were followed by reports of missed sniper fire,” suggesting soldiers were attempting to warn of their opposing advances.
The Utah Opera presents “Silent Night”
January 18 – 26
JQ Lawson Capitol Theatre, 801-533-6683, utahopera.org
Efraín Solís, who plays the French Lt. Audebert, shared his preparation as an operatic professional. Solis trained and worked in the San Francisco Bay Area for years revealed that most cast members are not Utah residents. While both Irvin and Preisser are returning cast members from the debut of Silent Night from Minnesota back in 2011, Solis is new to the scene.
Many hold beliefs that opera singers are rotund and don’t move around on stage. “Modern opera demands are much more rigorous,” Solis relayed. To keep up, he takes his physical fitness very seriously. These three cast members take time to work out, noticing the significant altitude difference while spending time here, they join gyms, run and practice yoga. As a side comment, Utah Opera Costume Director, Verona Green shared, “The comradery of the cast for this particular production has been extraordinary to witness, while all teams have a certain level, this one has exceeded all others in my experience.”
For more information visit utahopera.org.
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