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  1. #1
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Silent Night at Piedmont Opera

    Silent Night, contemporary opera in two acts, sung in English, German, French, Italian, and Latin, with English supertitles
    Pulitzer Prize-winning music by Kevin Puts (Opera Lively interviewee)
    Libretto by Mark Campbell, based on the screenplay by Christian Carion for the motion picture Joyeux NoŽl (2005), which depicts the real life story of a short truce in one of the World War I battles, on Christmas eve and day.
    Premiered on November 12, 2011 at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts, St. Paul, Minnesota, USA; commissioned by Minnesota Opera

    This review is of the second performance of the run, on October 29, 2017. A third performance will happen on October 31 at 7:30 PM, at the Stevens Center of the UNCSA in Winston-Salem, NC, USA. See our article with announcement and links to ticket sales, by clicking [here]. That page also contains another link to a previous Opera Lively coverage of this opera on the occasion of its Philadelphia run, which includes a very interesting interview with the composer. Read two other Opera Lively interviews with artists from this production by Piedmont Opera by clicking [here] - not to be missed since they do enhance the understanding of the opera.

    The Winston-Salem Symphony conducted by James Allbritten
    The Piedmont Opera Chorus

    Stage Director Cynthia Stokes
    Production Designer Norman Coates
    Sound Designer Jason Romney
    Costume Designer Melissa Torchia
    Properties Designer Steven Kemp
    Wig and Make-Up Designer Martha Ruskai
    Fight Choreographers Dale Girard and Alex Bodine
    Scenic Construction Majestic Scenic
    Costume and Properties Construction Opera San Josť

    Cast

    Anna Sorensen - Jodi Burns
    Nikolaus Sprink - Opera Lively interviewee Kirk Dougherty
    Lieutenant Audebert - Opera Lively interviewee Gabriel Preisser
    Lieutenant Gordon - Gregory Gerbrandt
    Lieutenant Horstmayer - Opera Lively interviewee Brian Banion
    Ponchel - Kyle Guglielmo
    Father Palmer - Andrew Renť
    Jonathan Dale - Logan Webber
    French General - Daniel Boye
    Kronprinz - Jonathan Sidden
    William Dale - Ryan Hill
    Madeleine Audebert - Megan Cleaveland
    British Major - Jason McKinney
    Gueusselin - Jalen Hicks

    ------------

    This is the second time this week that I attend a contemporary opera, one of my passions. I'm coming from the Met where I saw the USA premiere of Thomas AdŤs' gorgeous The Exterminating Angel, which earned my preference as one of my top three most beloved contemporary operas, together with Written in Skin and Luci Mie Traditrice. I reviewed that formidable, A++ performance [here].

    While Silent Night is not among the top three above, it is close. I saw it at Philadelphia Opera a few years ago and provided the second most extensive coverage of a modern and contemporary opera ever done by Opera Lively (only behind our work with Written in Skin which ended up published in paperback and Kindle e-book of the same title, available on Amazon), including a long and interesting interview with Kevin Puts, the composer. I really loved the beautiful Philadelphia production, which was the same as the original one in Philadelphia, with many of the same artists, including our friend Liam Bonner who was Lieutenant Audebert (he also granted us an interview).

    So, I was very pleased that Piedmont Opera picked up this piece. This season, all three main professional companies in North Carolina are doing contemporary opera (NC Opera just did Cold Mountain, and Opera Carolina is doing Cyrano by DiChiera which opens this coming Saturday). When large national companies frown at producing contemporary opera, it is thrilling that all three regional companies in our state are contributing to keeping the art form alive.

    First, let's address the theatrical aspects of this show.

    This physical production, while not as spectacular as the original one in Minnesota and Philadelphia with the large revolving set, was nevertheless very good in many ways, and even did a couple of things that were superior to its predecessor: for example, the fighting scene in the first act was more realistic and impressive than the original one, and the three small buildings depicting the trenches not only did a good job as focal points for each army's actions, but could be taken away, providing for a larger space for the singers than the cramped Minnesota/Philadelphia stage.

    Unfortunately I can't say that I'm a fan of the large cloud that was used as a projection surface. I just think it wasn't very aesthetically pleasing. I would have preferred projections more integrated with the background. That cloud over the stage was too conspicuous, ruining a bit the visual realism. Still, the physical props and sets worked, so I'll give to this aspect a score of B+.

    Costumes, make-up, and lighting were all fine (the latter had a couple of moments when the spotlight lagged slightly behind singers who were walking across the stage). A-.

    Blocking was good, with efficient utilization of the space, like I said. A+. Acting was a bit subdued. Correct, but not amazing; A-.

    This brings us to a global score of about A- for the theatrical side.

    Now, we'll talk about the musical aspects.

    The excellent Winston-Salem Symphony did a great job. I actually was more pleased with the rendition of the score done by this orchestra, than the one in Philadelphia. A++.

    We were pleased to see that Maestro James Allbritten's bio on the playbill mentions that "Opera Lively said, Jamie Allbritten does understand it, and his conducting, if we need to define it by one word, is elegant." Well, he continues to be elegant. The orchestra was very delicate and soft in support of the singers, and equally restrained during the quiet poignant moments of the action, while the more intense moments had adequate volume that was resonant enough but not overwhelming. A very good job, A++.

    Singing was mostly very good. We will mention the six principal roles.

    This is the second time I see Jodi Burns live on stage, and the previous occasion already impressed me so much that I called that performance of Carmen by her role: "The MicaŽla Show." Today she didn't disappoint. Of the three sopranos I've heard in the role of Anna Sorensen (video clips from Minnesota, live in Philadelphia, and live in Winston-Salem, each production with a different soprano), I thought that Jodi was the best one. Her character is an opera singer, and therefore she sings the most traditional-sounding pieces that feel less "contemporary" including a good dose of coloratura, and she did it all with great accuracy and beautiful timbre.

    I also liked very much Brian Banion as Lieutenant Horstmayer, a singer I've heard many times on stage. His voice was strong and stable, with a lot of gravitas. Gabriel Preisser was also very good as Lieutenant Audebert, with good phrasing and enough melancholic color to depict this longing, sad character.

    I was slightly less pleased with Kirk Dougherty whose voice exhibited a bit weaker projection and was thinner than that of his counterparts (maybe some respiratory ailment). Gregory Gerbrandt and Kyle Guglielmo were correct but didn't shine as brightly as Burns, Banion, and Preisser.

    Andrew Renť and Daniel Boye were prominent among the generally good comprimario singers. Megan Cleaveland had a very small role, but she is a promising young singer whom we've praised before in other productions.

    Overall, singing gets a score of A. The chorus did very well in the two beautiful moments, one in each act, where they are called to more substantial participation: A+.

    So musically we have the orchestra/conductor with A++, the singers with A, and the chorus with A+. The musical average, then, is A+.

    Adding to the musical A+, the A- of the theatrical side, we get a final overall score of A, for this production.

    There is also the quality of the piece itself. This is a very beautiful, touching, and emotional opera, rich in poignant moments that will draw some tears from the audience, as well as some brief comic relief touches that are interesting and allow the public to breathe a little in the context of this rather somber tragedy. Musically, Silent Night fully deserves its Pulitzer Prize. There are some sublime and melodious parts, like the "Sleep" chorus, here in its Minnesota version:



    I grant to the opera itself a score of A+, just a bit below the maximum A++ that I have just assigned to The Exterminating Angel (don't miss it on Met Live in HD in the movie theaters on November 18). So, an "A" performance of an "A+" work is highly recommended and not to be missed. If you haven't seen it yet, dear reader, do take advantage of the opportunity to catch the last show of the run, this Tuesday at 7:30 PM. If you are not fond of contemporary opera, this delicate, elegant, and sensitive piece might just convince you that our live composers can put together works that are as compelling as those of the traditional repertory.

    By the way, the Winston-Salem public (and beyond - I did see members of the Triangle Wagner Society there) did not seem to be afraid of this contemporary show: the auditorium, while not sold-out, was very full, with not too many seats left. Bravo, Piedmont Opera!
    Last edited by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva); October 30th, 2017 at 02:13 AM.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

  2. Likes Ann Lander (sospiro), MAuer, Nemorino liked this post
  3. #2
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Pictures of the production and curtain calls, credit Opera Lively

    A scene showing the three trenches:


    This picture is blurry but depicts the beautiful scene of Father Palmer celebrating a Christmas Mess:


    This scene is when the three generals are complaining of the soldiers' behavior, calling them traitors:


    Also blurry, but this is the final scene when the orchestra is slowing down and letters written by soldiers fall from the sky:


    Curtain calls:
    Attached Images Attached Images          
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

  4. #3
    Opera Lively News Coordinator Top Contributor Member MAuer's Avatar
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    It's pretty impressive when artists' biographies quote Opera Lively!

    You're right about that huge cloud creating a distraction. A shame, since the rest of the set looks fine.

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