I don’t know how many PBS affiliates showed Kevin Puts’ Pulitzer-winning opera Silent Night last Friday but since the composer grew up in Alma, about 20 minutes south of where I live, one of our local PBS stations aired a performance of the opera from the Minnesota Opera. The opera is almost exactly 2 hours so they had to be pretty lean with the video production: there were no opening credits or anything just Boom! downbeat and away they went.
The story of a night of Christmas peace during WWI was very compelling. I don’t remember the librettist’s name (and I’m neglecting looking it up at the moment, my apologies) but the characterization and dramatic pacing were exceptional. After the three sides were established (Scottish, French, and German) the moment where the German opera singing soldier steps out of the trench and approaches the Scottish soldier out in the open was genuinely affecting. I felt the tension from all sides of the story and was caught up in what a huge risk that simple action was. Impressive stuff.
Musically, I didn’t take too much away from it. The whole work was well structured, well crafted, and well performed. The musical language was understandably conservative, not only is it easier on the voice but I can understand the financial hardships an opera company could run into if they approach a new opera that traditional opera audiences wouldn’t want to pay to hear. A week removed from the event and I’m hard pressed to remember any stand-out musical moments. It isn’t that I didn’t like the music, I was just more taken with the story.
I’m finding this happens a lot: either I’m into the music and don’t care about the story or vice versa. The number of operas I’ve seen this year that really entranced me on both sides is fairly small. Do you smell a “year end review list” in the future? I know I do…