November 20, 2011
I attended the performance last night of Kevin Puts and Mark Campbell’s new opera, Silent Night, at the Minnesota Opera. I had the opportunity of spending some time with Allan Naplan, the company’s general director, before the performance and at the intermission, and was able to talk about the tremendous impact that the production has had on their season (all the performances sold out and ovations after each of the previous performances earlier in the run.) After the opera, I had the chance to meet and speak briefly with both the composer and librettist, and could express my heartfelt congratulations to them. I was also able to chat with Dale Johnson, Minnesota Opera’s artistic director, who had shepherded this project along from the very beginning (and to whom it is dedicated.) I gather that it was Dale’s idea to commission Mr. Puts, and it was Dale who suggested that the film Joyeux Noel be the inspiration.
I knew the source material, of course, and was intrigued by how it was to be translated to the operatic stage. I thought it was remarkably successful, and my enthusiasm was obviously shared by the public at the performance I attended. When I spoke afterward with several of the cast members, they all felt that they were part of something special.
For me, the music seemed to adapt itself to serve each individual scene, and there were definite efforts to “channel” the musical idioms of the early 20th century that would have been familiar to the soldiers from the three countries represented in the story. I thought that some of the vocal music was a bit dry, but there were also moments of great lyricism. Most of the orchestral writing was quite adept, and the opera had real emotional punch. I was particularly impressed with the way the libretto wove the separate stories together, and the way in which the audience comes to know and care about the various factions fighting in the trenches.
It certainly has put the composer on my radar, and he is someone whose musical projects I will follow closely in the future. It is hard to believe that this was his first opera (and I gather the first significant vocal music that he has written) and so I will be very interested to see what comes next. He is definitely a composer with solid theatrical instincts, and wonderful melodic gifts.