Silent Night opera at Place des Arts: One War, One Night, A truce
This week, l’Opéra de Montreal proudly presents Silent Night, a contemporary production that showcases the value of finding common ground among enemy nations, sung by some of today’s finest Canadian singers in principal roles: Marianne Fiset, Philippe Addis, Joseph Kaiser and Daniel Okulitch.
Silent Night is an opera in two acts by composer Kevin Puts. The libretto was written by Mark Campbell and based on the 2005 film Joyeux Noël that recounts the tale of a one night, spontaneous Christmas truce held at the frontier between rival forces during World War I. Most of the libretto is sung in English, French and German, but depending on the characters and scenes, also with some Italian and Latin.
Silent Night - photo Yves Renaud
Silent Night is a stirring plea for peace that tells of human bonding in which similarities are found and differences set asides for one night.
It is summer 1914, war has just been declared. Opera singers Anna Sørensen and Nikolaus Sprink’s performance in Berlin is suddenly disrupted and Nikolaus is sent off to war. In Scotland, William urges his younger brother Jonathan to enlist. In Paris, a pregnant Madeleine is angry as her husband Audebert chooses to go off to war.
Fast forward to Christmas Eve 1914: A violent attack by French and Scottish soldiers on the German line fails. William is shot dead and the soldiers from all three fronts are starting to be shocked by the horrors of war. When German Christmas trees, sweet French chocolates and Scottish whisky are delivered to each respective faction from their homeland, Some Scottish soldiers start singing and a morose Nikolaus responds with a Christmas song (The opera's pinnacle aria "Silent Night"), the Scottish bagpiper accompanies him and Nikolaus raises a Christmas tree as a sign of peace on the bunker. The Christmas truce commences as all three lieutenants agree to defy their orders and call a cease fire until morning. The soldiers abandon their weapons, intermingle, talk, and exchange provisions. Overnight, enemies become brothers, celebrating Christmas together.
One war, a night, a truce.
When dawn comes, will they be able to pick up their weapons and resume fighting?
A deeply moving story, Silent Night easily conveys the difficulty and dilemmas soldiers have to face when having to choose between brotherly love among men and filial duty to their homeland.
The opera held its premiere in Minnesota on November 12th 2011. All the elaborate scenery, stunning period costumes and media files for this production are owned by the Minnesota Opera and perfectly captured the ambiance of the chaos of World War I.
This production went on to win audience acclaim, and was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for music by boasting heterogeneous musical materials, a richly orchestrated score performed by the Metropolitain orchestra, and memorable arias such as the moving “Dona Nobis Pacem” sang accapella by the talented Marianne Fiset as Anna Sørensen.
The core message that the audience takes away from this opera is
"'War is not sustainable when you come to know your enemy as a person.' When you see that the person you might be shooting has a child or a wife or has this life at home and they’re just not the enemy, then it becomes very difficult if not impossible to sustain war."
Before every performance there are informative pre-operas that are hosted with gusto by musicologist Pierre Vachon, this convivial get-together is a dynamic and “user-friendly” introduction to the performance, a bit like a journey into the heart of the opera’s music and history. Attendees get a better understanding of the libretto, the opera's symbols and the production in general. Pre-operas are free for subscribers and $5 for general public.
L'Opéra de Montréal will be presenting Silent Night from May 17th to the 23rd
For more information on up-coming productions presented at Salle WILFRID - PELLETIER of la Place des Arts