McPHERSON – The Western Front, Christmas, 1914. Out of the violence a silence; then a song. A German soldier steps into No Man’s Land singing “Stille Nacht.” Thus begins an extraordinary night of camaraderie, music, and peace. “All Is Calm,” the true story of the World War I Christmas Truce told in the words and songs of the men who lived it, will be presented by Wichita Grand Opera at 7:30 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 15, at the McPherson Opera House.
“All Is Calm” is created and written by Peter Rothstein, who says, “This extraordinary event took place in 1914, the first year of the war, and was never repeated. Thousands of men put down their guns and left their trenches to meet their enemies in No Man’s Land. They exchanged gifts of tobacco, rum and chocolates – even photographs of loved ones. They sang songs, played a game of soccer, and buried each other’s dead. Upon orders from above, they eventually returned to their trenches and re-instigated a war that would last four more years.”
However, the story isn’t usually in history books.
“The propaganda machine of war is powerful, and news of soldiers fraternizing across enemy lines would put a human face on the Germans and readily undermine public support for the war. The heroes of this story are the lowest of the ranks — the young, the hungry, the cold, and the optimistic — those who acted with great courage to put down their guns, overcoming a fear that placed a gun in their hands in the first place. Their story puts a human face on war, and that’s the story I hope to tell,” Rothstein said.
It made sense to let the characters tell their story as a radio musical drama.
“Radio was critical to military operations; it was the primary means of mass communication and mass entertainment. Our piece would (use) only the tools of radio: music and text. The music ranges from trench songs to patriotic and sentimental tunes, as well as Christmas music from the participating countries. The text is taken from a wide range of sources including letters, journals, official war documents, poetry, gravestone inscriptions — even an old radio broadcast.
“One of the reasons I love working in the theater versus film or television, is because the theater is a two-way street. It asks the audience to engage their imagination in order to complete the story.”
The vocal arrangements are created by Eric Lichte and Timothy Takach. As a founding member, singer and artistic director of the male vocal ensemble “Cantus,” Lichte created and sustained one of only two full-time vocal ensembles in the United States. His work with Cantus garnered the 2009 Margaret Hillis Award for Choral Excellence, the highest honor from the professional choral organization Chorus America.
“Experiencing this touching show is a wonderful way to celebrate the season of Christmas,” says McPherson Opera House Executive Director, Diane Fallis. “And the message is as appropriate as ever: that even enemies can find a way to come together in peace and friendship.”
Tickets range from $20-$40, all student tickets are $15, and can be purchased at www.mcphersonoperahouse.org, by calling 620-241-1952, or stopping by the box office at 219 S. Main Street in McPherson. A group rate for 10 or more guests is also available.