Entertainment » Theatre

Tenor William Burden Returns to ’Silent Night’

by Lewis Whittington
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Thursday Feb 7, 2013

Opera Company of Philadelphia has given itself a new name - Opera Philadelphia - and is presenting the East Coast Premiere of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize winning Silent Night by composer Kevin Puts and librettist Mark Campbell. The opera had its world premiere at the Minnesota Opera last year and is a co-production of the two companies.

"Silent Night" is based on an actual incidents and people in WWI. The story takes place on Christmas Eve on the Western Front when officers defy their orders and broker a Christmas Eve truce.

Tenor William Burden repeats his starring role as German officer and opera singer Nikolaus Sprink, who is the catalyst for the events in the story. He spoke to EDGE earlier this week about the production.

"I was in it a year ago Minnesota and it's perfect that it is now at Opera Philadelphia, when they are remodeling themselves. They are now partnering with so many other terrific companies at a time that when such collaborations are necessary to bring such an ambitious works, as this one, to the stage. As singers and artists, we certainly benefit. It's feeding the opera industry in a terrific way."

Based on a real incident

Many of the original cast members will be singing in this production, along with Philly based rising stars tenor Zach Borichevsky (who trained at the Academy of Vocal Arts) and bass-baritones Brandon Cedel and Thomas Shivone (both from the Curtis Institute in Philly). Cedel just won the regional Met auditions and will be in the finals in March.

For the production, Michael Christie conducts the OP orchestra and the staging is by Academy Award-winning director Eric Simonson.

Burden is one of the most sought after actor-tenors and sings all over the world. He is coming off a huge success at the Metropolitan Opera production of Robert Lepage’s "The Tempest" last fall.

"In ’Silent Night,’ I play the German opera singer, Nikolaus Sprink," he said, "who is also a conscripted soldier. It’s based on a series of true incidents, with some dramatic license of course," he said.

His co-star is Soprano Kelly Kaduce, who plays his lover, Anna Sørenson, also an opera singer.

"They certainly are one of the great opera couples in history," he said.

Burden last performed with Opera Philadelphia as the Hypolyt in "Phaedra" in 2011, the last opera by gay composer Hans Werner Henze, based on Greek tragedy. The production was abstract and the musically dense. "It was such a remarkable piece and Henze wrote some of it after he came out of a coma. It one of the most challenging thing I have ever done, it was a complicated and figuring out the vocal architecture," he recalled.

Realities of war

Burden said he is particularly proud to be a part of a new opera that was awarded the Pulitzer. "This is a remarkable achievement for Kevin, since it is his first opera," Burden said. Just in the past year, Campbell has premiered four new works. In "Silent Night," he writes lyrics in five languages: English, German, French, Italian, and Latin.

For Burden though the biggest challenges is playing "a conscripted soldier who very clearly in the story is suffering from what we would now call Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. In WWI, it was called ’shell shock.’ So he’s a guy who’s gone through something most of us don’t understand," he explained.

"We’ve been at war for the past decade, but we know it from what we see on television. This story is an opportunity for us to look at the realities of war, and to recognize what our soldiers go through."

Beside the tragic themes, the opera boasts elaborate production designs by Francis O’Connor. "It’s ingenious, " Burden said. "There’s a central battlefield and then three structures that are, in fact, the bunkers of the French, German and Scottish battalions that are there. The chorus moves these structures around the central disc that rotates. It tells the story visually too -- it’s very cinematic in its scope."

Burden had the opportunity to take his nine year old son backstage to see the set, who found it "awesome."

Silent Night presented by Opera Philadelphia runs February 8 - 17, 2013 at the Academy of Music, Philadelphia. For more information, .

Lewis Whittington writes about the performing arts and gay politics for several publications.


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