Kevin Puts’ Pulitzer-winning opera Silent Night coming soon to KQED
Christian Carion’s 2005 film Joyeux Noël awoke entire generations of Americans to an extraordinary event, on Christmas Eve, 1914, on a frozen field near Flanders when mortal enemies in World War I—mostly Christians—chose to celebrate the traditional birth of Christ together in the no-man’s-land that separated them in combat. It is a fascinating and unforgettable film, as indeed the event itself was to those survivors who would later be severely punished by their commanding officers for this unauthorized violation of the rules of engagement.
Now, and for several timely reasons, Kevin Puts’ opera Silent Night, based on exactly the same event, will be telecast Sunday, Dec 22, at 12 noon on KQED. (Comcast subscribers will be able to watch it on Monday, Dec 16, 8pm). The production was commissioned and staged by the adventurous Minnesota Opera, as bold a company as any in America for its commitment to new works for the musical stage. (In 2011, it revived Bernard Herrmann’s masterpiece, Wuthering Heights.) Silent Night was premiered by Minnesota Opera in November, 2011, and recorded for PBS. Subsequently, it was awarded the 2012 Pulitzer Prize.
(The Pulitzer music awards have been dogged for years by criticism over what is seen as a narrow range of artistic parameters and the even-narrower complexion of its all-male, all-white judges. Gary Giddins in The Village Voice, citing an article by Anne Midgette in The Times, describes John Adams’ surprise at winning the 2003 award for his sentimental pastiche On the Transmigration of Souls. “’Adams expressed ‘ambivalence bordering on contempt’ because ‘most of the country’s greatest musical minds’ have been ignored in favor of academic music.’” Despite its apparent critical laxness, many Pulitzers have been well placed, for Ornette Coleman’s Sound Grammar , Steve Reich’s Double Sextet  and Jennifer Higdon’s Violin Concerto , among others.)
Composer Kevin Puts has become very well known in our communities for his premieres and live appearances at the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music (in Santa Cruz and San Juan Bautista) and for two commissions by Chamber Music Monterey Bay that have been premiered in Carmel and Monterey. (Our own Weekly Update recently reviewed the new CD release by Marin Alsop and her Baltimore Symphony of his Fourth Symphony From Mission San Juan.) Puts’ Flute Concerto, premiered at Cabrillo last summer, showed an even surer hand and sharper artistic focus than others of his recent works.
Since its Minnesota premiere, Silent Night has made the rounds of opera companies, and, in the PBS telecast, is currently being seen in major markets across the country through cable and satellite services. Those with DVR will be able to record it for further viewing at leisure. (Left, Troy Cook as Father Palmer, the role played by Scottish actor Gary Lewis in the film.)
Mark Campbell’s libretto was based on the Carion film. French and Scottish allies are pit against Germans. The pause in hostilities allows both sides to bury their dead. A pair of opera singers caught up in the action adds another facet to the unfolding narrative. Eric Simonson is the stage director, Michael Christie the conductor.
Photos by Michal Daniel, Minnesota Opera
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