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Michigan Opera Theatre presents Silent Night based on Christmas truce of World War I and offers hope for our future

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Nov. 12-20 the Michigan Opera Theatre will present American Composer Kevin Puts’ Pulitzer Prize-winning contemporary opera, Silent Night. The two-act opera is based on actual events and explores the unsustainability of war when enemies come to know each other as friends.

This is a must see that gives us hope for our future.

Here’s what happened.

On Christmas morning in 1914 World War I stopped for a few hours for thousands of soldiers fighting along the 500-mile Western Front.

It wasn’t a declared ceasefire. Instead, soldiers on both sides of the battle tentatively laid down their weapons and poked their heads – and finally their bodies – out of the trenches to wish each other a Merry Christmas. They met in fields strewn with dead, frozen bodies, destroyed trees and huge craters.

According to the History Channel, it started on Christmas Eve after a British sentry saw lights glistening on the German parapet just 100 yards away.

Intrigued, Charles Brewer, 19-year-old British lieutenant with the Bedfordshire Regiment of the 2nd Battalion, slowly raised his head over the sandbags protecting him and saw a Christmas tree. As he looked down the line he saw similar trees shining in the German trenches.

Then he heard it. The Germans, were singing Stille Nacht. It was song we all know, Silent Night. When the Germans finished, the soldiers on the other side cheered and began singing the English version. That led to the ceasefire, where the soldiers exchanged gifts like cigarettes, chocolates, sausages, liquor and plum puddings and in some cases played soccer.

But it was only a truce, not peace.

At sunset they were all back in their respective trenches, ready to fight the next day.

The History Channel says at 8:30 in the morning of December 26 “Captain Charles Stockwell of the 2nd Royal Welch Fusiliers fired three shots into the air and raised a flag that read ‘Merry Christmas.’ His German counterpart raised a flag that read ‘Thank you.’ The two men then mounted the parapets, saluted each other and returned to their sodden trenches. Stockwell wrote that his counterpart then ‘fired two shots in the air—and the war was on again.’”

A Christmas carol stopped a war for many, even if it was just for day. It was indeed a silent and holy night where for a few hours all was calm and all was bright. I only wish that was true every day. Still, that one day gives us hope for the future and symbolizes our ongoing desire for peace.

The quest for hope, peace and good continues and means the same to our troops currently fighting and our veterans as it did for those fighting more than a century ago. It is a good time to say thank you.

“As we celebrate Veterans Day and enter in to the holiday season, we are extremely proud to offer this touching opera on what is means to be human, especially against the contrasting backdrops of wartime and Christmas,” says MOT founder David DiChiera. “We invite the public to join us for an incredible experience of beautiful music and a moving story.”

Muskegon native and Western Michigan University alumnus Chad Johnson makes his Michigan debut in the leading role of Nikolaus Sprink, a German opera singer called to the line of duty to perform for the crown prince of Germany on the battlefield whose singing helps to establish the truce.

The cast also includes Erin Wall (Anna Sorensen), Phillip Addis (Lt. Audebert), Kristopher Irmiter (Lt. Horstmayer), Gabriel Preisser (Lt. Gordon), John Robert Lindsey (Jonathan Dale), Joseph Michael Brent (Kronprinz) and Daniel Belcher (Fr. Palmer).

For complete casting information, please visit michiganopera.org.

The opera is directed by Eric Simonson and conducted by David Charles Abell. There are four performances Nov. 12-20 at the Detroit Opera House as well as a Student Dress Rehearsal on Nov. 11th with discounted tickets for school groups. Here’s the schedule.

  • Friday, Nov. 11 11 a.m. (Student Dress Rehearsal)
  • Saturday, Nov. 12 7:30 p.m.
  • Wednesday, Nov. 16 7:30 p.m.
  • Saturday, Nov. 19 7:30 p.m.
  • Sunday, Nov. 20 2:30 p.m.

An opera talk will be given one hour before each performance.

It will be sung in German, French, English, Latin and Italian, with English supertitles projected above the stage.

The opera is made possible by Ford Motor Company with additional support from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. 

Ticket prices range from $29 to $152. Tickets may be purchased online at www.MichiganOpera.org, by calling (313) 237-7464 or in person at the Detroit Opera House (1526 Broadway, Detroit). Tickets may also be purchased at Ticketmaster.com, at any Ticketmaster outlet, or by calling (800) 745-3000. 

Detroit Opera House Photo by Bnosnhoj

Detroit Opera House Photo by Bnosnhoj

To accompany the production, Michigan Opera Theatre is hosting several community events with various community partners:

Film Screening: Joyeux Noël: Detroit Yacht Club, 1 Riverbank Dr., Detroit

Lecture: “The Great War in Song and on the Stage”: Schaever Music Recital Hall, Old Main, 480 Hancock St., Detroit

  • Lecture on the intersection of music and history during World War I and in Silent Night
  • Nov. 11, 11:45 a.m.
  • Free

Michigan Opera Theatre is also partnering with the Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine for a medical student program exploring the themes of Silent Night from a healthcare perspective. The program will focus on aspects of the opera such as decision-making, role conflicts and patient relationship-building during intense periods that often have life-or-death consequences.

Additional information about the community events is available at http://www.michiganopera.org/opera/silent-night/.

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