Utah Concert Review – Silent Night Utah Opera January 18, 2020, Capitol Theater

by Nate Pence

Utah Opera began the year at the Capitol Theater in Salt Lake City with an emotional performance of the opera Silent Night (Composer Kevin Puts, Lyricist Mark Campbell), which tells the story of the unofficial armistice between French and Scottish allied forces and German soldiers on Christmas Eve of 1914. The opera follows three groups of soldiers, the Germans, French, and Scottish, who spontaneously put down their weapons and traded gunfire for Christmas carols. Exchanged pictures of loved ones, chocolates, and a battlefield church mass bring the men on both sides of no man’s land much needed rest and peace, but the light of Christmas Day brings the realization that their shared experiences have failed to change their status as enemies.

The set boasted a large three-story gray stone edifice, not unlike the austere Stalinist architecture that would become popular in the years immediately following the first Great War. This stood in direct contrast to the luxurious and ornate architecture and trimmings of the walls and proscenium of the Capitol Theater, itself as old (built in 1913) as the story being told therein. In lieu of a curtain, the stage used a scrim that (through the magic of stage lights) could be translucent or opaque as needed, thus creating the possibility of movie-like scene changes or superimposed effects to accentuate the drama of the actors on stage. Images of dark, leafless winter trees, dark rolling fog, and splattered blood floated ominously over the war scenes portrayed by the actors on the stage. This cinematic quality was unexpected but mesmerizing and would be especially captivating for younger viewers used to the quick cuts and constant gratification of television and the cinema. Before the first downbeat and during the intermission, the scrim had projected onto it the names of WWI soldiers who came from Utah, totaling some 3,000 names. This powerful image initially evoked a reflective mood; but as the audience filed in and found their seats, more and more patrons pointed to a familiar name with a smile and spoke of relatives who fought during the war. The overall feeling was one of communal ancestral pride.

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