February will bring the East Coast Premiere of Silent Night, winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize in music by the Opera Company of Philadelphia. With a score by Kevin Puts and a libretto by Mark Campbell, the opera was hailed as “a stirring opera that recounts the true story of a spontaneous cease-fire among Scottish, French and Germans during World War I, displaying versatility of style and cutting straight to the heart.”
Feb. 8, 10m, 13, 15 & 17m, 2013 | Academy of Music
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Late summer, 1914 War is declared. At a Berlin opera house, the announcement disrupts the loves of international opera singers Anna Sørensen and Nikolaus Sprink. In a small Scottish church, it inspires William to enlist with his brother Jonathan as their priest, Father Palmer, looks helplessly on. In the Parisian apartment of the Audeberts, it angers Madeleine who excoriates her husband for leaving while she’s pregnant with their first child. With nationalistic songs in the background, the men prepare for war.
In and around a battlefield, near the French border, before Christmas
Scene one – December 23, late afternoon A skirmish between the Germans and the French and Scottish: corpses pile up in no-man’s land between the three bunkers. When William is shot, Jonathan must leave his brother behind to die.
Scene two – December 23, evening In the Scottish bunker, Lieutenant Gordon assesses the casualties while Father Palmer offers solace to Jonathan. In the French bunker, Lieutenant Audebert discovers the French General waiting to reprimand him for surrendering. The General leaves and Audebert laments the loss of his wife’s photograph to his aide-de-camp, Ponchel. Alone, he tallies the casualties in the last battle, while missing Madeleine and their child whom he has not yet seen. He sings of needing sleep, a sentiment echoed by all of the soldiers. As it starts to snow, covering the corpses in no-man’s land, the soldiers slowly begin to sleep. Alone in the German bunker, Nikolaus reveals his despair about war to an imagines Anna.
Scene three – December 24, morning In the German bunker, crates have arrived – and little Christmas trees from the Kronprinz. Lieutenant Horstmayer receives a directive that Nikolaus has been ordered to sing at the nearby chalet of the Kronprinz, along with one Anna Sørensen. Nikolaus departs for the chalet, excited that he will be reunited with Anna again after many months apart. French soldiers receive crates of wine and food. Ponchel, a barber by trade, cuts Audebert’s hair and reminisces about having coffee with his mother every morning, who lives only an hour away on foot. The alarm clock he carries next to his heart (which shielded him from a bullet in the last battle) rings at ten o’clock every morning to remind him of it. In the Scottish bunker, crates of whiskey have arrived. Jonathan writes a letter to his mother, not mentioning his brother’s death.
Scene four – December 24, early evening At the chalet, Anna and Nikolaus perform. Afterwards, they steal a few moments on a terrace outside. Anna is saddened by Nikolaus’s broken spirit. She vows to accompany him back to the battlefield.
Scene five – December 24, night In the French bunker, Gueusselin volunteers to infiltrate the German bunker and sidles onto no-man’s land. The Scottish soldiers drink whiskey and play a bagpipe that another unit has sent them, as Father Palmer singers a sentimental ballad. The men in the other bunkers hear the song. Nikolaus arrives; his fellow soldiers greet him with cheers and amazement at seeing Anna with him. Nikolaus sings a rousing Christmas song; midway through, the bagpiper begins to accompany him. Emboldened, Nikolaus stands atop the bunker raising a Christmas tree as a gesture of friendship. Against the protestations of their superiors, the soldiers from all bunkers stand. Nikolaus moves to the center of no-man’s land. Eventually, the three lieutenants, waving a white flag of truce, agree to a cease-fire…but only for Christmas Eve. The soldiers slowly and cautiously move toward each other. They share their provisions, their photos, their names. Anna appears and the soldiers are awed. Father Palmer holds mass for the men, while Jonathan finds his brother’s body and vows revenge. When the mass is finished the men are urged to “go in peace;” bombs explode menacingly in the distance.
Scene one – December 25, dawn Jonathan tries to bury his brother. Two German sentries are about to shoot him when Father Palmer and Lieutenant Gordon intervene. Looking on Horstmayer proposes that it may be time to bury all of the dead. The three lieutenants meet and decide that the truce will be extended.
Scene two – December 25, late morning, early afternoon Father Palmer delivers last rites, and the soldiers form a processional bearing the wagon of bodies away. Anna looks on with Nikolaus and promises that he will not suffer that fate.
Scene three – December 25, evening When the truce is over, Nikolaus ridicules Horstmayer for his allegiance to the Fatherland; Horstmayer arrests him for insubordination. Anna takes Nikolaus’s hand and leads him across no-man’s land as Horstmayer orders his men to shoot. Reaching the French bunker unharmed, Nikolaus demands asylum for Anna and himself.
Scene four – December 26, late morning The British Major berates the Scottish soldiers for the truce and announces that they will be transferred to the front lines. When a German soldier is seen crossing the battlefield, the Major orders him killed. Jonathan shoots the man. The French General tells Audebert that he will be transferred to Verdun as punishment for the truce. Audebert informs the French General – his father – that he has learned he has an infant son named Henri. They vow to survive the war for the child’s sake. The Kronprinz angrily announces that the German soldiers are to be deployed to Pomerania. The soldiers are taken off in a boxcar. The battlefield is now completely empty. Snow begins to fall again.