A stirring preview of World War I opera All Is Calm.

Dr. Nicolas Reveles of San Diego Opera provides an overview of All Is Calm: the Christmas Truce of 1914.
Dr. Nicolas Reveles of San Diego Opera provides an overview of All Is Calm: the Christmas Truce of 1914.

Yesterday I sat on a folding chair inside the Veterans Museum at Balboa Park blinking my eyes. Several voices singing divinely about our essential humanity had nearly brought me to tears.

I’d just enjoyed a short but stirring preview of San Diego Opera’s upcoming production of All Is Calm: the Christmas Truce of 1914. This unique chamber opera is a mixture of the spoken word and male singing unaccompanied by instruments.

Together voices relive a profound moment during the horrific trench warfare of World War I, when “soldiers from France, England, and Germany ventured into no-man’s land on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Soldiers exchanged food and gifts, swapped prisoners and performed burials, and played football and sang Christmas carols.”

The inspirational opera All is Calm contains no original music. It is composed entirely from music that was popular just before the onset of World War I, hymns and timeless Christmas carols. The actual letters of common soldiers and orders from officers are among the historical texts that are interwoven with song. Young soldiers from both sides, manning hellish trenches that were infested with rats and lice, made even more miserable with winter rain and freezing snow, are moved to walk out into the field of fire, risking their lives, to share a moment of common humanity.

The opera will be staged in early December in downtown’s Balboa Theatre, a smaller and more intimate setting than the San Diego Civic Theatre, where San Diego Opera usually performs. There is some singing in French and German, but the opera is primarily in English. Silent Night is sung in different languages by many voices, which eventually combine and rise together as one. Music moves the human heart like nothing else can.

The brief preview of All Is Calm: the Christmas Truce of 1914 was simply amazing.

It gave me goosebumps.

These smiling ladies welcomed me to the Veterans Museum at Balboa Park, where a few parts of the opera All Is Calm were previewed.
These smiling ladies welcomed me to the Veterans Museum at Balboa Park, where parts of the opera All Is Calm were previewed.
Visitors to the Veterans Museum look at a large mural on one wall before the program begins.
Visitors to the Veterans Museum look at a large mural on one wall before the program begins.
One exhibit in the Veterans Museum includes artifacts and ephemera from the First World War. A gas mask speaks of trench warfare's horrors.
One exhibit in the Veterans Museum includes artifacts and ephemera from the First World War. A gas mask speaks of trench warfare’s horrors.
Director of All Is Calm, Juan Carlos Acosta, tells the audience about the making of this unique chamber opera.
Director of All Is Calm, Juan Carlos Acosta, tells the audience about the making of this very unique chamber opera.
Historical image of a young man who left home and went off to war in the early 20th century.
Historical image of a young man who left home and went off to war in the early 20th century.
Juan Carlos Acosta, Timothy Simpson and Walter Dumelle sing together in a short but stirring preview of All Is Calm.
Juan Carlos Acosta, Timothy Simpson and Walter Dumelle sing together in a short but stirring preview of All Is Calm.
All Is Calm: the Christmas Truce of 1914 is an inspiring opera that reminds one and all of our essential humanity. It will touch your heart deeply.
All Is Calm: the Christmas Truce of 1914 is an inspiring opera that reminds one and all of our essential humanity. Its music touches the heart.

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100th Anniversary of Armistice Day in Balboa Park.

Marines march west down El Prado toward the California Tower during the 2015 Garden Party of the Century in Balboa Park.
Marines march west down El Prado toward the California Tower during the 2015 Garden Party of the Century in Balboa Park.

This Sunday will be the 100th Anniversary of Armistice Day.

Armistice Day marks the end of World War One. On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918 the horrifying “war to end all wars” finally ended. (In 1954, Armistice Day was renamed Veterans Day in the United States.)

On Sunday in Balboa Park something special will take place to honor the 100th Anniversary of Armistice Day.

The carillon inside the California Tower will chime at 11:00 am not the usual 11 times, but 21 times. After it chimes 21 times, Taps will be played. An hour later, at noon, the carillon bells will play a medley of WWI songs.

A variety of events in Balboa Park are also planned for Veterans Day weekend.

Several I’ve noted are:

Friday, beginning at 5 pm, at the San Diego Museum of Art. Free admission to the museum, where visitors can see the fantastic Artists at War: American Posters of World War I exhibition. Enjoy artwork and presentations by local veterans groups, the Air and Space Museum, a performance by Westwind Brass, and a screening of the 1938 classic The Dawn Patrol.

Saturday, 3 pm – 4 pm, at the Veterans Museum. A free preview by the San Diego Opera of their upcoming production of All is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914, which concerns a brief, miraculous “unofficial armistice” that occurred in the trenches during World War One.

Sunday, 11 am – 5:30 pm, at the Balboa Park Carousel. A free ride will be provided to all veterans, active military and their families, courtesy of the Friends of Balboa Park. In addition, the Historical Unit of Southern California will have a special WWI commemoration at eleven o’clock.

I live in downtown San Diego and love to walk around with my camera! You can follow Cool San Diego Sights via Facebook or Twitter!

A brilliant recital at the San Diego Opera.

The San Diego Opera has performances scheduled for April and May 2016. Madama Butterfly and Great Scott.
The San Diego Opera has performances scheduled for April and May 2016: Madama Butterfly and Great Scott.

Yesterday evening I attended a recital by Ferruccio Furlanetto at Copley Symphony Hall in San Diego. The concert was a collaboration between the San Diego Opera and the San Diego Symphony.

Simply: it was a powerful and deeply moving experience. The combination of a full symphony orchestra and one of the world’s great opera stars stirred my soul and mind in a way that very, very few things can–not unlike the world’s greatest literature or poetry.

Both the quiet moments and the thunder seemed the very elements of human life, but exquisitely condensed, made poignant. During the diverse program, Ferruccio’s voice rose through the hall with sadness, memory and yearning. It was a performance that lifted me as I listened, and as I watched.

And I didn’t understand most of the words that he sang!

A voice that can express high passion with minute subtlety is a rare thing, indeed. Ferruccio was brilliant, and now I want to experience more of the opera.

It was a shame that I saw very few youthful faces in the audience. I suppose the opera is a medium that relies largely on reverence to tradition. But the opera could easily speak to modern, younger audiences. Much of human experience is universal. We all have those same feelings that are expressed in the opera: the same passions and tensions that result from human interaction. I challenge writers and composers to renew the opera and make it less stuffy, less repetitive, less beholden to the past. Our present world is full of great issues and movements. Make these part of a living art, one that moves boldly and experimentally forward into the future.

Because art is ultimately about life. Our lives.

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