It was the winter of 1914, the early months of World War I, and combatants throughout Europe participated in a series of unofficial Christmastime ceasefires that included burial ceremonies, gift exchanges and even reported games of soccer.
While fighting continued elsewhere, and short truces were not unheard of, that brief window of relative peace and its historical significance have been the inspiration for various works of art, including songs, plays, movies and even an opera.
“Silent Night”, a 2011 opera by composer Kevin Puts and librettist Mark Campbell, tell this story, and is based on the screenplay for the 2005 film “Joyeux Noël.” Originally commissioned by the Minnesota Opera, “Silent Night” will be performed by Arizona Opera here in Tucson next month.
Luckily, north side residents have a chance to preview the Pulitzer Prize-winning show more than a week early thanks to the Opera Guild of Southern Arizona, which hosts an hour-long event at 2 p.m. Monday, Feb. 25, at the Oro Valley Town Council Chambers, 11000 N. La Cañada Drive.
Anyone who knows me is well aware of the fact that I’m a lover of all things related to the arts, so I couldn’t wait to sit down with University of Arizona graduate student and UA opera associate director Kaitlin Bertenshaw, who will lead the preview later this month.
Bertenshaw has sung in Opera Guild previews before, so she was excited when the opportunity to present one was offered to her. Even better, she would get to present a new opera like “Silent Night.”
“It’s important for me to be able to express my love for this opera and share something that’s really new with the community,” she said. “Modern opera is something that’s recently become part of operatic seasons. It used to be the traditional, the standard...but now most opera companies are starting to program new works.”
While she’s had experience with plenty of other performances, Bertenshaw said she reached out to her colleagues from across the country that’ve previously performed “Silent Night” to get a better sense of how they handled the large-scale show. Once she got her hands on the score and libretto, Bertenshaw was ready to prepare for the presentation.
“It is a very complicated, quick-moving story that took me several reads to get through it, and there are not a lot of recording of this music, so I had to sit at the piano, sing and ply through a lot of it myself,” she said.
Joining Bertenshaw on Feb. 25 will be bass-baritone Jordan Murillo, tenor Nicky Manlove and Pianist Kyung Sun Choi.
Bertenshaw, who will also sing soprano, said her presentation will include mixed media to create a “miniature version” of what she expects Arizona Opera will perform in March.
While opera aficionados should of course cross this day off on their calendars, lovers of art like myself shouldn’t discount an opera performance as some stuffy show for high society snobs. It really is an accessible work of art.
Longtime Opera Guild member Betty Allen, who sang in some of the earliest previews the guild performed and invited Bertenshaw to lead the preview, really said it best: “Operatic singing itself is the pinnacle, the ultimate use of the human voice.”
Because the use of the human voice for opera is so much more challenging than regular singing, and the result is so much grander, there really isn’t any comparison.
Plus, it’s free, so make sure to get there a few minutes early. The opera insiders tell me to expect a full house!
Speaking of the arts: Be sure to sink your teeth into this week’s Spring Arts preview, covering the extraordinary array of upcoming events in Southern Arizona. Award-winning arts writer Margaret Regan delves into the visual shows in galleries and museums, and previews dance performances, while Sherilyn Forrester manages expectations on the theatre front and Emily Dieckman tackles the classical music calendar. There really is something for everyone.