BWW Review: War Is Hell but the Puts-Campbell SILENT NIGHT Is a Wonder in Atlanta

Rom's three-tiered set gives a 360-degree view, simultaneously showing the action in each of the participant trenches during the war scenes; but it also leaves room for more intimate encounters, by having a panel drop in front of the unit set. Despite all the action that's going on--and there's lots of it--the stage never feels confused or overwhelming, but somehow fuses the multi-layers of action into a vigorous whole. This is not unlike the score.

Under the sure baton of maestro Nicole Paiement, Puts' polyphonic music builds layer upon layer. Look at the opera's opening: It goes from three intimate scenes that introduce major characters to a cacophony that represents the "glory" of battle as the remnants of the characters' normal lives begin disintegrating into the fruitlessness of war. First, there is the music for a pair of German opera singers at the Berlin opera (in a witty take on Mozart) followed by German nationalistic music. Then there are Scottish brothers leaving home amid talk of heroism, to Scottish battle songs. Finally, there is the French lieutenant whose pregnant wife feels abandoned by his call of duty, followed by a backdrop of a French cri de guerre. At this point, one can only guess what lies ahead for these people, but history tells us that it can be nothing good.

Indeed, even after the short-lived truce at the center of the piece (extended so that the dead may be buried) it's not all forgive-and-forget--the creators are too realistic for that--particularly for the Scot who lost his brother early in the story and has had to leave him on the battlefield. When the soldiers return to the business of war, they are crucified by their superiors for taking such [peaceful] matters into their own hands. It is all beautifully modulated in a way where nothing feels like an easy answer.

It's ostensibly an ensemble piece--especially in this production, where the different countries have their own layers of the set--but the pair of performers portraying the German opera singers somehow manage to steal the show, both through their acting and singing. Tenor David Blalock (Nikolaus) and soprano Ava Pine (Anna) have some of the composer's most beautiful vocal music, particularly her Schubert-inspired aria that ends Act I.

Other memorable members of the cast were the hearty baritone of Alexander Hajek as Lt .Gordon; the smooth vocalism of baritone Matthew Worth as Audebert, the French lieutenant; the charming portrayal of baritone Andrew Wilkowske as aide-de-camp Ponchel; tenor Jonathan Dale as the hang-dog Scot, Alexander Sprague, mourning his brother; and bass Tom Fox as the stuffy French general (who turns out to be Audebert's father).

As I exited the auditorium at intermission, I found myself walking behind the composer (Puts) and librettist (Campbell) of this stimulating, moving work, hearing them talk avidly about changes they wanted to make--to improve on what already seemed, to someone less intimately involved in the work, a modern classic.

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SILENT NIGHT is a co-production with the Wexford Festival in Ireland and the Glimmerglass Festival in Cooperstown, NY.

Caption: The German camp, with David Blalock and Ava Pine, center. Photo: Jeff Roffman

Atlanta's SILENT NIGHT has additional performances on November 11th (in honor of Veteran's Day) and a matinee on the 13th.

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Richard Sasanow Richard Sasanow is a long-time writer on art, music, food, travel and international business for publications including The New York Times, The Guardian (UK), Town & Country and Travel & Leisure, among many others. He also interviewed some of the great singers of the 20th century for the programs at the San Francisco Opera and San Diego Opera and worked on US tours of the Orchestre National de France and Vienna State Opera, conducted by Lorin Maazel, Zubin Mehta and Leonard Bernstein.