The Cincinnati Opera will perform Silent Night at Music Hall

Martha Stephens

Jazz from the Air Force? Yes, that’s what we heard on Saturday afternoon, June 28, at Spring Grove — by a jazz combo from the Air Force called Airmen of Note.

The Airmen played under a huge white tent, with perhaps 150 people sitting in chairs — and more on the encircling grass. There was very live music up on the platform from the jazz players and local singers, and speakers sat waiting their turns to orate. Cincinnati Opera’s artistic director Evans Mirageas led the ceremonies, remembering WWI and setting the stage for the opera Silent Night, which opens at Music Hall on July 10.

Is it an “anti-war” opera? Many who see it will feel that it is. The famous hymn by that name (Stille Nacht in German), was sung at Spring Grove in German and English. The phrase Silent Night is taken to refer to the Christmas Eve of 1914 when the contending forces wandered out of their respective hideaways and sang Christmas songs together.

One of the speakers on Saturday, Reverend Gail Greenwell of Christ Church Cathedral, spoke about the “absolute carnage” of WWI and said it represented “a betrayal of idealism.” Yet “clergy of all side offered a steady stream of patriotic voices in support,” she said. Sixty-five million soldiers from many nations served, including her own grandfather. The drone warfare of today, Greenwell said, makes it even harder for warriors on opposing sides to feel their “common humanity.” She referred to the violence today in the Middle East and said she hoped people everywhere would stop seeing warfare as “just and holy” but express “mutual forbearance” for each other’s way of life.

We certainly had patriotic music at Spring Grove on Saturday, but we also know that more than a thousand Cincinnatians lined up way down the streets leading to Union Terminal when President Herbert Walker Bush arrived here in 1991 to plump up support for the first invasion of Iraq. Could Bush enjoy, one wonders, an anti-war opera like Silent Night with its beautiful and tender message?

Tickets are available for the opera Silent Night on July 10 and 12. Students can buy tickets for $20 by going to Music Hall on the days of performance. Box office: 241-2742. See a review of this opera in the next issue of Streetvibes.

Martha Stephens is retired from the U. C. English Department and has written on U. S. war research in The Treatment: the story of those who died in the Cincinnati radiation tests (Duke University Press 2002). She blogs about war and other matters at marthastephens.wordpress.com, and can be reached at stephem@ucmail.uc.edu.

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