Reporting Pat Ciarrocchi
By Pat Ciarrocchi
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – At the Academy of Music, the battle is engaged.
Opera Philadelphia is lifting the curtain on five performances beginning Friday night on the Pulitzer Prize winning American opera, “Silent Night.”
It’s a true story about the miracle of peace in the midst of a bloody World War I battlefield.
Composer Kevin Puts is 41, and he is collaborating here on the East Coast premiere of his first opera.
“The catalyst is Christmas Eve,” said Puts.
It’s December 1914, and Scottish, French, and German officers negotiate a Christmas Eve truce. They hear the singing of Christmas carols and come out of their trenches to learn they are the same, and are not necessarily enemies.
Considering many operas are centuries old, it’s rare to ask a composer, “How did you do this?”
“You hear the music,” said Puts, “And it almost does feel like there’s a conduit, that you are a conduit for the music. It’s hard to define.”
But the emotion isn’t so hard to define in war. It’s separation, loss, horror and grief.
Baritone Liam Bonner portrays the French commander, Lt. Audebert.
Bonner himself is anti-war, so he says this role speaks to him.
“I’m in charge, and I don’t know why we’re here and why we have to be fighting…I think it’s a beautiful way to express…there can be peace.”
Also collaborating with Opera Philadelphia is Mark Campbell, the artist who wrote the libretto — the story that becomes the scaffolding or architecture that supports the music.
“Make the phrases short, so they can be sung. Increase the amount of emotion,” Campbell says.
“Silent Night” is the first opera that Campbell has written in five languages. He thought singing in English with German accents wouldn’t be tasteful.
As for the magic of opera:
“I love those moments that we’ve created when the audience is completely silent,” said Campbell. “And they’re questioning war and why we keep doing that again.”
Opera Philadelphia is presenting five performances through February 17th. For more info or tickets, visit: www.operaphila.org.