Fort Worth Opera
Conductor – Joe Illick
Director – Octavio Cardenas
Scenic Designer – Francis O’Connor
Costume Designer – Kärin Kopischke
Lighting Designer – Marcus Dilliard
Projection Designer – Andrezj Goulding
Associate Projection Designer –Daniil Efros
Sound Designer – C. Andrew Mayer
Associate Sound Designer – RaByn Taylor
Wig and Makeup Designer – Steven Bryant
Stage Manager – Lisa Marie Lange
Assistant Director – Andrew Neinaber
Repetiteur – Emily Jarrell Urbanek
Chorus Master – Stephen Dubberly
Language Coach – Mary Dibbern
English Supertitle Translation – Mark Campbell
Spanish Supertitle Translation – Gabriela Lomónaco
Anna Sørenson – Ava Pine
Nikolaus Sprink – Chad Johnson
Father Palmer – Christopher Burchett
Jonathan Dale – Kevin Newell
William Dale – Matt Moeller
Madeleine Audebert – Clara Nieman
Lt. Audebert – Morgan Smith
Lt. Horstmayer – Craig Irvin
Lt. Gordon – Dan Kempson
Ponchel – Steven Eddy
Kronprinz – Nicholas Simpson
British Major – Jesse Enderle
French General – Aaron Sorensen
Reviewed Performance 5/4/2014
Reviewed by Laurie Lynn Lindemeier, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
The 2012 Pulitzer Prize-winning opera, Silent Night, that made its regional premiere last Sunday in Fort Worth is jam-packed with the many and varied elements that make an opera successful. It’s difficult to fathom that this is American composer Kevin Puts’ first opera.
Evoking a feeling reminiscent of the moment I stood at the foot of the great statue of David admiring its artistry and massive size – Silent Night had this same effect with its phenomenal set, singers, and music. One of the biggest undertakings ever of the Fort Worth Opera and perhaps the largest production seen at the expansive Bass Hall, this set contains an impressive rotating No-Man’s Land ironically flanked by a bombed-out church. The original production was created by Eric Simonson for the Minnesota Opera where it made its world premiere in 2011. Mark Campbell wrote the brilliant libretto based on the 2005 Oscar nominated film Joyeux Noël. This film was presented at the Lone Star Film festival last year, paving the road for culture-loving fans to take in the operatic version of the quiet night when the war ceased and Christmas peace prevailed.
The massive set was expanded still more by the ingenious projections on the scrim and backdrop. Andrezj Goulding, assisted by Daniil Efros, designed gentle snow, floating letters to home, billowing clouds of smoke, and flying shards of metal. These effects surrounded the soldiers who wore authentic World War I costumes as they engaged in deadly hand to hand combat – no unmanned planes or long-distance radar, just face to face bloody battle. Through it all, they sang.
Kärin Kopischke created the costumes with meticulous attention to historic accuracy. Mary Dibbern, guest language coach for this production and past head of the music department in Minnesota when the opera premiered, gave an enlightening preshow lecture. She explained the fatal result of the French soldiers’ stylish red trousers and hats; they became crimson targets on the gray terrain, easily recognized by the German soldiers who shot at the red and more red was created.
The sound effects, designed by Andrew Mayer, were also gut-wrenchingly realistic with blasting guns and bombs. Mayer’s many high-tech effects of the present took us to the past without out a missed step. Not being a fan of war movies, I, nonetheless, felt the long battle scene appropriate and not an exploitive show of violence. It placed the truth of war before our eyes and ears. Lighting designer Marcus Dilliard complimented the sound and projection effects with highly effective lighting such as the focused illumination of the gold crucifix during the mass funeral. To soften, but also at times to intensify, the emotional blow of the WWI tale, came the powerful operatic voices and a lush cinematic-like orchestral score. Joe Illick conducted the orchestra with vitality. The sinewy strings of the violins formed an almost Schindler’s List-like milieu of pain. The melancholic French horn solo at the beginning of Act two set a poignant yet tender mood.
Virile baritones abounded in the cast, matched by plucky tenors, who, all-together created an extraordinary troupe of voices. Two women sang with the men. One was the frightened pregnant wife of a newly drafted Frenchman, sung with strife and sorrow by mezzo-soprano Clara Neiman. The chandelier amongst the dirt and grime of war was the crystalline soprano voice of opera singer Anna Sørenson, sung by Fort Worth favorite, Ava Pine. In the prologue, the “opera within an opera” depicts Sørenson in Berlin, singing in a traditional Italian opera with her love interest, Nikolaus Sprink, sung with intensity and strength by tenor Chad Johnson. In a later scene, Sprink declared he could go back to his old life because he has seen too much. This aria, sung by Johnson was the most hard-hitting and passionately moment of the evening. Pine also sang a pivotal piece – the prayerful Dona Nobis Pacem. In this Latin-like chant Pine’s voice floated in with such purity over the soldier’s heads like snowflakes on Christmas Eve.
As often happens a side-kick character ends up stealing the show, and this was the case with Ponchel, sung by tenor Steven Eddy, a FWO studio artist alum. His comedic timing doubles the delight of his tenor tenacity. Ponchel apparently always made the best coffee as the assistant to the French Lieutenant who was sung with a gorgeous robust baritone by Morgan Smith. The two played off each other quite well. Smith languidly sang the ingeniously written aria as he listed the names of the men lost in battle while also penning a letter to his wife.
The men’s chorus comprised dozens of Scottish, French and German soldiers. Chorus Master Stephen Dubberly led the men to sing on and offstage equally well. They executed the battle-scene choreography with an eerie grace that read as precision and also, realism. In contrast they joyfully sang the fraternization numbers in French, German and English as they shared chocolate, kuchen, and whiskey. Their echoing of the lullaby lovingly sung by Smith’s rich baritone to his wife and child was riveting.
The German Lieutenant was sung by baritone Craig Irvin who has performed the role in several productions around the U.S. including the world premiere in Minnesota. His role holds particular irony and foreshadowing due to the ethnic heritage he reveals when asked his opinion on the Christmas truce.
With only one performance remaining one cannot procrastinate. This is truly an event not to miss! For this stunning regional premiere, I borrow the soldier’s comment on the truce, “It was the most amazing thing. I will never forget it.”
Fort Worth Opera Festival
Bass Performance Hall
Corner of Fourth and Calhoun Street
Fort Worth, TX 76102
Remaining performance is May 10th.
The production runs approximately two hours and thirty minutes with one intermission.
Tickets are $25.00 to $200. Military receive a 50% discount. Student rush tickets are available 15 minutes prior to performance.
Purchase tickets online at www.fwopera.org or call: 817.731.0726
(Toll Free 1.877.396.7372).