Silent Night tells the story of the Scottish, German and French troops at the moment when an uneasy truce broke out in the trenches on Christmas Eve 1914. As Opera North prepares for its U.K. premiere at Leeds Town Hall, we asked three of the members from the Opera North Youth Chorus to share their perspective on the opera and the Great War which took the lives of so many young men.
While Euan Lynch, 15, has only just joined ONYC and so will be performing with the Company for the first time, Henry Etherington, 16, was originally a member of Opera North Children’s Chorus and has previously appeared in both Verdi’s Otello and Macbeth. Kieran Ragan, 18, was also a member of ONCC and made his debut in a production of Tchaikovsky’s Queen of Spades:
“I first performed in a mainstage production at Opera North when I was 11 years old. At this point, I really didn’t know what I was getting into as opera and live performance were very new to me. The production toured England and I couldn’t wait for the next one! To date, I have performed in seven operas. Being fortunate enough to perform with Opera North has well and truly changed my life.”
How does it feel to be singing about World War One knowing that boys of a similar age as you were there in the trenches?
Euan: It’s difficult to comprehend that young men of my age went to war knowing that they may have to take the lives of others or never return home themselves. I went on a school trip to the Menin Gate at Ypres last year and the things that have stayed with me are the young age at which many of those soldiers lost their lives and the number who never returned to their families. I feel it’s important that their stories are told.
Henry: It feels very strange because I went to some of the battlefields in France and Belgium when my dad was researching the death of my great granddad, Fred Wilson, near Ypres in WW1. We visited the Menin Gate and heard the Last Post which they perform every night. The number of names on the memorial is overwhelming. Thinking that my friends and I are exactly the same age of some of these guys is powerful, moving – and slightly disturbing. The sort of problems we think are significant pale into nothing when you think of what these young men went through.
What is it like being part of a 100-strong male only chorus?
Henry: It’s absolutely incredible – the sound we’re producing in rehearsal is amazing. When we first found out we wouldn’t be singing with the girls, we were quite upset as we love rehearsing with them so much. But, as soon as we finished the first rehearsal, I knew that for this piece to work and for it to have the impact it needs, having an all-male chorus is definitely the right decision.
Kieran: I think the chorus of Silent Night really makes the show something else. I actually get goosebumps singing parts of the music. Singing with men on their own can be a challenge sometimes as we still have to fill the parts so, in order to keep everything balanced, the tenors usually have to sing very high and the basses usually have to sing quite low.
Euan: Being part of such a large chorus is fantastic. The sound being created is so powerful.
What has been the most challenging aspect of performing in Silent Night?
Henry: The language! It’s quite a challenge to have to learn such a difficult musical piece, but learning it in another language adds another layer.
Kieran: Definitely the languages, as the chorus members have to sing three throughout the show. Learning these languages can be very difficult, especially when a lot of the words are nearly impossible to say, never mind sing!
What is your favourite part in the opera?
Euan: My favourite part is the ‘Sleep’ chorus (below). It has the feel of a slow and calming piece.
Henry: I don’t want to give away too many spoilers so can’t tell you too much but, at the beginning of Scene 2, there’s a beautiful piece of music where all three camps [German, Scottish and French] sing in their own languages. The blend of all three is absolutely divine.
How would you describe the opera to people thinking of coming along?
Kieran: Silent Night is perfect for you if you want to witness something powerful, not only in a vocal context, but emotionally, physically and mentally. It blends many intense feelings into one story which is both relevant and understandable. I would highly recommend it!
Euan: It is a fantastic and very moving piece. It shows what young soldiers went through – and the truce shows that there was a hope of peace at this most horrendous of times.
Henry: Even if you don’t like opera or have never been to one before, you should definitely experience this incredible piece of music. It’s very thought-provoking and will leave people in tears – I’ve told my aunty to bring her hankies!
Silent Night opens at Leeds Town Hall on Friday 30 November. The Opera North Youth Chorus usually hold auditions in September and January, but expressions of interest are welcomed at any time. Please complete the online application form to be kept informed about the chorus and audition dates.