Monday, October 29, 2018

ACTÉON AND PYGMALION – REVIEW OF TWO GEMS FROM OPERA ATELIER

James Karas

Opera Atelier has chosen two one-act gems for its fall production. They are Charpentier’s Actéon and Rameau’s Pygmalion, works based on Greek myths that are wonderfully antithetical and complementary. I have a feeling that Marshall Pynkoski and Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg, the Co-Artistic Directors of Opera Atelier, commissioned these works for the current season. Yes, I know that Actéon has been around since 1684 and Pygmalion premiered in 1748, but I have no time to be confused by facts.

Mr. Pynkoski as a director, wanted operas and Ms Zingg as a choreographer wanted ballets. They convinced the two composers to give them operas-cum-ballet or perhaps the other way around to maintain gender equilibrium. Ms Zingg deserves the concession since she is celebrating her 33rd year with Opera Atelier.
  The company of Actéon. Photo by Bruce Zinger.
Actéon, you will no doubt recall, is the Theban prince who loves hunting but is indifferent to the love of women. He worships Diana (or Artemis for the purists) the virgin goddess of the hunt who prefers the company of nymphs and four-legged creatures in the forest to anyone else’s company. No erotic love, please.

Actéon has heard that a bear is despoiling Diana’s forest and he goes with his friend to get rid of the creature that is harming the goddess that he worships. Completely by happenstance, he sees Diana bathing au naturel. That is verboten and Diana decides to punish him. She turns the hunter Actéon into a stag and his dogs have him for lunch. Not a happy ending.

Pygmalion is different. He is great artist and sculpts a beautiful woman. Being a romantic, he falls in love with the statue and prays to Venus, the goddess of love, to do something about his passion. Enter Eros who brings the statue to life.  His girlfriend Céphise is not too pleased and storms out of his studio. The statue becomes Galatea and is taught to dance, falls in love with Pygmalion and they live happily ever after.

The moral of the stories being that if you interact with goddesses, forget chastity (yours or the god’s), find out how she feels about being seen naked and go for art instead of hunting.

The production of the two gems is a visual and aural delight. Tenor Colin Ainsworth sings Actéon, the chaste but impassioned worshipper of Diana and the equally passionate but perfectly human Pygmalion. He modulates his voice beautifully to the demands of Baroque opera and we enjoy every note of it.

The splendidly-voiced soprano Mireille Asselin, (like Ainsworth, a veteran of Opera Atelier productions) sings the roles of Diana and Eros in beautifully executed performances.      
 Colin Ainsworth and Meghan Lindsay (centre) with Artists of 
Atelier Ballet in Pygmalion. Photo by Bruce Zinger
Soprano Meghan Lindsay sings Aréthuze in Actéon and Galatea in Pygmalion. When a statue is given life by Eros and she tells you that her first desire is to please you, you have a winner and Ms Lindsay convinces us that we do.

The solo vocal singing is supplemented by the Chorus of the University of Toronto Schola Cantorum with members of the Choir of the Theatre of Early Music and they are simply superb.

Ballet forms an integral part of Actéon and Pygmalion. The hunters and the nymphs in Actéon and the dances performed in teaching Galatea to dance in Pygmalion display Ms Zingg’s choreographic talent and the exquisiteness of the Artists of Atelier Ballet. 

Gerard Gauci’s sets emphasize the beauty of the mythical world as do the costumes by Gauci for Actéon and Michael Gianfrancesco for Pygmalion.

The Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra conducted by David Fallis brings the full aural pleasure of the music to the fore.

In the end you are transported to, dare I say it, almost magically to the mythical world of Ancient Greece as seen by two Baroque French composers and brought to life, almost Galatea-like, by the artists of Opera Atelier.
____

Actéon by Marc-Antoine Charpentier and Pygmalion by Jean-Philippe Rameau, presented by Opera Atelier, run until November 3, 2018 at the Elgin Theatre, 189 Yonge Street, Toronto. www.operaatelier.com

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

HADRIAN – REVIEW OF CANADIAN OPERA COMPANY 2018 PRODUCTION

James Karas

The world premiere of a new opera? Reach for the trumpet and start blowing.

A new opera by a Canadian librettist and a Canadian-American composer? Get the entire brass section to announce the news.

Commissioned by the Canadian Opera company? Get the whole orchestra to play The Triumphal March fortissimo. This is too good to miss or be quiet about.

Composer Rufus Wainwright and librettist Daniel MacIvor have chosen the story of the Roman Emperor Hadrian who ruled, in the words of Edward Gibbon, during the “happy period” of the Roman Empire when it “comprehended the fairest part of the earth, and the most civilised portion of mankind.”

The COC commendably and sensibly has recruited a largely Canadian cast and artistic team without ignoring more internationally known artists such as Thomas Hampson, Karita Mattila and Ben Heppner (our own, yanked out of retirement).
 Thomas Hampson as Hadrian and Isaiah Bell as Antinous. 
Photo: Michael Cooper
The effort gets a standing ovation but the result gets polite applause for some of its aspects. The biggest problem I think is the libretto. MacIvor is too ambitious by a half and in his attempts to encompass a large number of topics he sows confusion and a certain amount of ennui.

MacIvor tells us that Hadrian is about the last day of the emperor’s life and he seems to take three hours (including intermission) to die. Wainwright tells us that the opera “is a surreal romp through time and space, mixing true occurrences with complete fabrication in order to illustrate a vivid ‘creative snap shot’ of the classical era.”

The interesting part of Hadrian’s life that seems to have drawn both Mac Ivor and Wainwright is his homosexual involvement with a young Greek named Antinous over a period of six years. But MacIvor goes after many other themes and in other dimensions.

I can only give a short description of what happens. Hadrian is on his deathbed grieving over his lover Antinous who drowned in the Nile a year ago under mysterious circumstances. But within a few minutes of the opening of the opera, Hadrian is visited by the ghosts of the Emperor Trajan (his predecessor) and his wife the Empress Plotina. The latter offers Hadrian two nights with Antinous and “the truth” about his death, if he will sign a document that will guarantee her eternal survival. She is already a deity but those monotheistic Nazarenes and Jews of Judea seem to pose a real threat.
Plotina now takes us back to the good times of seven years earlier when Hadrian met Antinous. I have no idea what world we are in or in whose imagination we are. A Sybil (I won’t tell you who she is) predicts that Antinous will sacrifice and become a saviour. I have no idea if this is something that Plotina makes Hadrian imagine or something he actually saw when he met Antinous or something that she invents for whatever reason, perhaps immortality.

Six years later, in some undefined world on the Nile, Hadrian and Antinous make love. Hadrian asks Plotina to change the rules – presumably of the imaginary visit with Antinous on the night of the latter’s death and she refuses. We are aware that Hadrian is deathly ill and since this is supposed to be surreal, sense and logic go out the window.

Hadrian goes in and out of this world; a Sybil appears again and tells Hadrian that he can be cured if there is a sacrifice. A sacrifice is ready but the Sybil admits that she is a fraud.

Hadrian, on one of his visits to this world, signs a decree ending Judea and monotheism and making Plotina happy because she will live forever. As I said, she is already a deity and I am not sure what living forever means.

MacIvor and Wainwright embrace enough subjects to make you think you are watching CNN for far too long. The clash between the polytheistic Roman religion and the encroaching monotheistic religion of the Jews and the Christians. The end of Judea and the birth of Palestine. If I heard correctly, the genocide of the Jews by Hadrian, the survival of the Roman Empire. The coming of a saviour.
 
A scene from the C0C’s world premiere production of Hadrian, 2018. 
Photo: Michael Cooper
Wainwright’s music with its long phrases goes a long way in relieving the tortuous plot but it cannot save it. Baritone Thomas Hampson does a marvelous job as he intones his lover’s name and makes fine use of his sonorous voice in life and death. Soprano Karita Mattila is an impressive Plotina as is Roger Honeywell as Trajan. Tenor Isaiah Bell is a sympathetic lover with a fine voice when he is allowed to be but once we know that he and Hadrian are homoerotic lovers we don’t need that much illustration of their love-making.


The most successful and impressive aspects of the production are the sets by Michael Gianfranceso, the lighting designs by Bonnie Beecher and the projection designs by Laurie-Shawn Borzovoy. The opening scene is dominated by the projection of an oversize statue of Hadrian and a large sarcophagus. We have a night sky with a moon later that looks stunning and a view of the flowing Nile. The scenes are simply stunning.

Peter Hinton, a man of the theatre, directs a staging with high production values. Johannes Debus conducted the Canadian Opera Company Orchestra in a production that deserves to be announced and celebrated with the Triumphal March but perhaps with a bit less fortissimo that we would have liked.    
___________
Hadrian by Rufus Wainwright (music) and Daniel MacIvor (libretto) is being performed seven times between October 13 and 27, 2018 at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, 145 Queen Street West, Toronto, Ontario.  www.coc.ca

Thursday, October 18, 2018

EUGENE ONEGIN – REVIEW OF CANADIAN OPERA COMPANY 2018 PRODUCTION

James Karas

The Canadian Opera Company has launched its 2018-2019 season with a production of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin to be followed by Hadrian, a world premiere of a new opera by Rufus Wainwright. This production of Eugene Onegin was directed by Robert Carsen for New York’s Metropolitan Opera and premiered at Lincoln Centre in 1997. The COC has borrowed all scenery and costumes from the Met.

Tchaikovsky’s lush score requires a baritone (for Onegin), a soprano, (for the lovely, romantic Tatyana) a tenor (for the poet Lensky) and a mezzo-soprano (for Tatyana’s sister Olga). I am not denigrating the secondary characters at all and listen to them with pleasure. The COC is quite well equipped for all the roles and what’s more, they are mostly Canadians.
Joyce El-Khoury as Tatyana. Photo: Michael Cooper
Robert Carsen (he is from Toronto) is one of the best opera directors in the world and has done brilliant work using minimalist sets. I think this production of Eugene Onegin would rank as one of his less successful efforts.

During the overture, we see a man on the empty stage seated in a chair reading. We assume it is Onegin and it is an appropriate image of the loner and perhaps eccentric “hero” of the opera. 

The opera opens on a Russian country estate where the peasants sing some pleasant songs. It is harvest time and Carsen and set designer Michael Levine use fallen leaves and orange walls to suggest the season. Aside from a table and a couple of stools there is nothing else on the stage. Except for indicating the season, the set does not communicate anything about time, place or atmosphere.

The famous Letter Scene where Tatyana spends most of the night composing a letter to the haughty Onegin is likewise done on a bed with no other furniture and again it looks pretty barren and the moon does not help.

For the ball scene in Act II a part of the stage is enclosed with chairs and the well-dressed guests try or pretend to waltz. The space is tight and most of the guests either do not know how to waltz or there is not enough room for any twirling.

For the dawn duel between Lensky and Onegin, we see only silhouettes of the men in the morning fog which may be acceptable but not really necessary.

We have much better luck with the singers. Soprano Joyce El-Koury has a lovely, supple voice and exudes youth and innocence as the teenager who falls in love with an older man who is not interested in her or perhaps any other woman.

Bass-baritone Gordon Bintner has an impressive voice and physique but he sang under the disability of a cold. There were times when he did not have the vocal power to dazzle us and no doubt it was because of the cold.
 (centre) Joyce El-Khoury as Tatyana and Gordon Bintner as Eugene Onegin. 
Photo: Michael Cooper
Tenor Joseph Kaiser sang a moving and finely-toned Lensky. He sings tenderly of his lost youth, of his love for Olga and the possibility of his death in the duel with his friend Onegin.

Mezzo-soprano Varduhi Abrahamyan has marvelous voice that can be described metaphorically as plush dark velvet or delicious dark chocolate especially in her lower register (and damn the mixed metaphors). She sang the role of Olga and I hope I did not understate my delight in hearing her.

A final note about the direction. Several years pass between the duel and the next scene in the opera which takes place in a palace in St. Petersburg. While the orchestra plays the polonaise that opens Act III, half a dozen servants fuss over and put together Onegin. This is right after the duel with no pause to indicate the passage of time or the change of scene. Onegin’s first words after the polonaise is that he is bored.

Johannes Debus conducted the Canadian Opera Company Orchestra in a production that has far more plusses than reasons for grouchiness and was received quite heartily by the audience.    
___________
Eugene Onegin by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky is being performed eight times between September 30 and November 3, 2018 at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, 145 Queen Street West, Toronto, Ontario. Tel:  416-363-6671. www.coc.ca

Sunday, October 14, 2018

AIDA – REVIEW OF LIVE FROM THE MET BROADCAST

Reviewed by James Karas

The Triumphal March from Aida is probably the defining image of opera for many people. There are productions that give the impression that the local zoo was raided for large animals to march across the stage as the heroic Radames returns from the war with the captured Ethiopians and their king in tow. Verdi’s thrilling music, the Metropolitan Opera Chorus, the large number of extras and the imposing set provide an electrifying scene that is simply overwhelming. And yes there are horses for good measure but no other animals such as elephants and giraffes.

Sonja Frisell’s production with Gianni Quaranta’s monumental sets premiered in 1988 and   has held its place in the Met’s repertoire ever since with numerous cast changes. The attention this time was directed on Anna Netrebko who is singing her first Aida. She has the magical combination of vocal and star power to rivet attention on herself and she does not fail.     
A scene from Act 2 of Verdi’s "Aida" Photo: Marty Sohl/Met Opera
Listen to her first act great aria, “Ritorna vincitor!” for a bravura performance. She wants Radames, her lover and commander of the Egyptian forces, to defeat the Ethiopians and her father King Amonasro. It is a passionate and wrenching aria that requires vocal heights and emotional breadth and Netrebko delivers on all accounts.

“O patria mia” is another demanding aria in which fear, nostalgia, longing pain for the loss of her home and a desire for death as the only escape are mixed as Aida considers her future. She is a captive Ethiopian princess who must choose between love of country and love of a man, an Egyptian hero no less, with her father the King of Ethiopia thrown in for good measure. Netrebko captures all of the emotional turmoil passion and vocal splendour.

Aida’s competition for the love of Radames is the Egyptian princess Amneris, the daughter of the King. In this production Georgian mezzo soprano Anita Rachvelishvili provides a balance if not competition for Netrebko.  She has a splendid mezzo voice that can produce a wonderful dark notes and emotional range as a woman torn with love, jealousy, anger and in the end rejection.

Tenor Aleksandrs Antonenko is an outstanding singer who does a much better job as a military leader than as an emotional lover. With Netrebko and Rachvelishvili as his opposites, he tends to get buried but he deserves full credit for his performance in the Act II duet.

Quinn Kelsey sings the role of King Amonasro who is captured by the Egyptians and has the tough job of convincing his daughter to convince her lover Radames to betray his gods and his country. Kelsey pulls on all the motional heartstrings and succeeds in a fine performance.    
Anna Netrebko as Aida and Anita Rachvelishvili as Amneris in Verdi's "Aida."
Photo: Marty Sohl / Met Opera
On the huge Lincoln Centre Stage, the massive Egyptian sculptures, the lifts that can move sets around and the army of people created by the chorus and the extras give the impression that this is not a live performance in a theatre but a scene from, say, Cecil, B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments. You almost expect the Red Sea to part.

Nicola Luisotti conducted the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Chorus and Ballet in spectacular performances becoming the production.

Aida is the first opera to be broadcast from Lincoln Centre for the 13th season of Live in HD from the Met. For people who are unlikely to go to New York or have no opera available within reachable distance or cannot afford the price of a ticket anywhere, Live from the Met provides a great solution. You get to see ten operas every year at a sensible price from one of the world’s great opera companies.

Aida by Giuseppe Verdi was shown Live in HD at select Cineplex theatres across Canada on October 6, 2018 and can be seen again on November 3, 5, 7 and 11, 2018. For more information go to: www.cineplex.com/events

Saturday, August 11, 2018

WEST SIDE STORY – REVIEW OF 2018 GLIMMERGLASS FESTIVAL PRODUCTION

James Karas

A great production of a great musical.

That is a succinct review of The Glimmerglass Festival production of West Side Story directed by the Festival’s Artistic Director Francesca Zambello. It is a co-production with the Houston Grand Opera and the Lyric Opera of Chicago and one can fairly say that she pulled out all the stops and the result is triumphal.
 

Vanessa Becerra as Maria and Joseph Leppek as Tony in "West Side Story." 
Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival
She has a great work to work with. West Side Story has a masterful score by Leonard Bernstein with lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by Arthur Laurents. That is three theatrical geniuses combining forces to bring an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet to Broadway in 1957. Jerome Robbins’ choreography remains extraordinary and unsurpassable. This is no pleasant dancing but an integral part of the plot that not only adds dramatic punch to the story but is an essential part of it. Remove the dancing and you have caused irreparable harm to the musical.

The original choreography is reproduced by Julio Monge. The scenery by Peter J. Davison and the costumes by Jessica Jahn show the seedy side of New York and the clothes worn by gang members, as far as we can tell. They do the job superbly.

West Side Story needs talented principals like Tony, Maria and Anita, and the main members of the two gangs and this production has them all. Aside from the love plot between Maria and Tony and the effervescent Anita, the musical is an ensemble performance because it is the portrait of two social groups at war. Who are they? Open the news and you will find them in most corners of the great United States. In this case they are Puerto Ricans and “real Americans” for which read white bigots.
 
Joseph Leppek as Tony, Vanessa Becerra as Maria and Amanda Castro as Anita in 
"West Side Story." Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival
Vanessa Becerra as Maria has a ringing voice and shows emotional intensity of the highest order. Tony (Joseph Leppek) is man in love with the voice and the passion to show it. The gang members do dance routines that are athletic, perfectly timed and executed with dramatic power and marvelous passion. Amanda Castro makes the perfect insouciant recent immigrant who is full of optimism but can tell the difference between a dream and a daydream.

The “adults” of the show are the very sympathetic Doc (Dale Travis) and the cops, Lieutenant Schrank (Zachary Owen) and Officer Krupke (Maxwell Levy) who are perhaps exactly how we imagine police officers.

David Charles Abell conducts The Glimmerglass Festival Orchestra bringing out Bernstein’s wonderful songs and music to an audience that seemed to be thrilled by every note.

A magnificent night at the theatre. 
 ______________
 West Side Story by Leonard Bernstein (music), Stephen Sondheim (lyrics) and Arthur Laurents (book) is being performed thirteen times between July 7 and August 24, 2018 at the Alice Busch Opera Theater, Cooperstown, New York. Tickets and information (607) 547-0700 or www.glimmerglass.org

Friday, August 10, 2018

THE CUNNING LITTLE VIXEN – REVIEW OF 2018 GLIMMERGLASS FESTIVAL PRODUCTION

James Karas

There are productions and recordings of Leos Janacek’s The Cunning Little Vixen but it is not an opera that has joined the standard repertoire. You are grateful for any production and especially thankful for one that is done well. E. Loren Meeker’s production for The Glimmerglass Festival qualifies as such as Artistic Director Francesca Zambello deserves a bow for her choice of an off-the-beaten track work.

The Cunning Little Vixen is a fairy tale about a vixen (sung marvelously by the agile Joanna Latini) fox from her youth to her death. As a cub, she is captured and taken home as a pet by the Forester (the ever sonorous Eric Owens). After killing the Forester’s hens, she escapes back to the forest where she grows up and finds love with another fox. Her cunning fails her and she is killed.
 
Joanna Latini as the Vixen and Eric Owens as the Forester in Janáček's "The Cunning Little Vixen." 
Photo: Karli Cadel/ The Glimmerglass Festival
The opera’s characters are mostly animals and insects including hens, grasshoppers, frogs, dragonflies, a wolf, a badger, a mosquito, a dog, a boar, a woodpecker …and you get the idea. Aside from the Forester and his wife (Kayla Siembieda), there is a Schoolmaster (Dylan Morrongiello), a Parson (Zachary Owen), Pasek the Innkeeper (Brian Wallin), his wife (Gretchen Krupp) and Harasta, the Poacher (Wm. Clay Thompson).

It should be noted that the entire cast with the exception of Eric Owens is made up of Glimmerglass’s Young Artists Program and the Glimmerglass Youth Chorus. Most of the young men and women take on more than one role and the performances are simply admirable.   

The Cunning Little Vixen is an orchestral piece, an opera and a ballet. There are some beautiful orchestral interludes and a great deal of dancing. With a few changes and additions, I think the work can easily be converted to a full-blown ballet. As such the Glimmerglass Festival Orchestra by Joseph Colaneri performs brilliantly. The dancing as choreographed by Eric Sean Fogel is done quite well.

The flexible set by Ryan McGgettigan represents a large faux tree in the forest and it is easily adaptable to represent the Forester’s house or the tavern where the men drink and talk about love or the lack of it
 
Gretchen Krupp as Pasek's Wife, Eric Owens as the Forester, Dylan Morrongiello as the Schoolmaster. 
Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival
Janacek adapted the stories of Rudolf Tesnohlidek for his libretto which is of course in Czech. Glimmerglass presents the opera in English in a translation by Kelley Rourke. That no doubt solves the problem of finding singers who know Czech or can memorize the libretto phonetically. But the translation does have problems. Without knowing Czech, but having heard the opera in its original language, I felt that the English translation had many more syllables. The singers had to rush through phrases that simply did not fit the music and we lost the advantage of having the words married to the music and vice versa.

You may have post-performance rumblings of your own but nothing can take away from the wisdom of choosing to produce the opera, the display of young talent nurtuted by the Festival and the overall high-caliber performance.
           _____

The Cunning Little Vixen by Leos Janacek is being performed nine times between July 8 and August 25, 2018 at the Alice Busch Opera Theater, Cooperstown, New York. Tickets and information (607) 547-0700 or www.glimmerglass.org

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

SILENT NIGHT – REVIEW OF 2018 GLIMMERGLASS FESTIVAL PRODUCTION

James Karas

Silent Night is one of the most moving operas that I have ever seen.
              
The silent night of the title of the opera is not the well-known Yuletide carol but a truce among Scottish, French and German soldiers on Christmas Eve 1914 to stop killing each other on the Western Front.

Kevin Puts’ opera to a libretto by Mark Campbell tells a moving story about humanity and decency in the midst of brutality. It is a paean to humanity and a condemnation of our species.

Campbell has woven several personal stories involving soldiers and officers of the warring armies around the national conflicts that brought these people to the war for the sole purpose of killing each other.
 
Arnold Livingston Geis as Nikolaus Sprink in The Glimmerglass Festival's 2018 production of 
Kevin Puts and Mark Campbell's "Silent Night." Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival
Director Tomer Zvulun has staged a superb production that captures the horror and senselessness of war and the human decency that can rise above it.

The Glimmerglass Festival stage is divided into three sections, one on top of the other, and they are occupied by Scottish, French and German platoons. The men are patriots and fighting for their countries. They are convinced of their righteousness and want to kill their enemy.

On the personal side, there are two Scottish brothers, William (Maxwell Levy) and Jonathan (Christian Sanders), who volunteer for service. But William is killed by the Germans and Jonathan, filled with hatred, promises to take revenge.

Nikolaus Sprink (Arnold Livingston Geis) and Anna Sorensen (Mary Evelyn Hangley) are singers with the Berlin Opera and he is conscripted into the German army. He is a good singer but a bad soldier. She is conscripted to sing for the Crown Prince who is camped in a nearby chalet on Christmas Eve and Nikolaos is sent to do the same. The two lovers are reconciled but how and where they will end up is another question.

Lieutenant Audebert (Michael Miller), the son of an officer, has enlisted in the French army leaving his pregnant wife behind. These are the central personal stories that are weaved into the temporary truce that miraculously happens on that Christmas Eve.

As the soldiers are shooting at each other, they realize that their enemies are people, that they have everything in common and no reason to kill each other despite the fervent patriotism and self-righteousness that they have been indoctrinated with.

During the evening the men from the three nations drink, exchange pleasantries, eat and have a good time together. In the morning hostilities are about to resume, but, again miraculously, they decide to extend the truce for a few hours in order to bury the dead.
 
Dale Travis as The British Major with members of the company in The Glimmerglass Festival's 2018 
production of Kevin Puts and Mark Campbell's "Silent Night." Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival
Puts’ score is an exquisite piece of music, expressive, moving, approachable, dramatic and occasionally dissonant. Campbell’s libretto is based on the screenplay of the film Joyeux Noël by Christian CarionThe opera is sung in the three languages of the combatants with some Latin. It was commissioned by the Minnesota Opera and premiered in 2011.

One of the most moving scenes in the opera occurs when Father Palmer (William Clay Thompson), a Scottish cleric performs a Christmas service and all the soldiers join in. The German Lieutenant Horstmayer (Michael Hewitt) joins in for his first such service. He is a Jew. That means he is not a “real” German and the opera prepares us for what will happen to the Jews of Europe in the future.

The commanding officers take an extremely dim view of the truce. The Kronprinz, the British Major (Dale Travis) and the French General (Timothy Bruno) punish the junior officers involved in the truce and make sure that no such event happens again. As Campbell puts it succinctly “war is not sustainable when you come to know your enemy as a person.”

Although there are some atrocious accents as the singers try to manage Scottish, German and French intonations, the opera is well sung and affectively acted.

Nicole Paiement conducted the Glimmerglass Festival Orchestra and Chorus in what is, I can only repeat, one of the most moving productions I have ever seen.
           _____

Silent Night by Kevin Puts (music) and Mark Campbell (libretto) is being performed nine times between July 15 and August 23, 2018 at the Alice Busch Opera Theater, Cooperstown, New York. Tickets and information (607) 547-0700 or www.glimmerglass.org