In time for the holidays: Truthful, truce-full, family opera - 'All is Calm' onstage Dec. 7-9 in San Diego

Here's something a little different to add to your 2018 holiday entertainment: "All Is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914." It's a touching, exhilarating, family-friendly opera that's a three-way collaboration between San Diego Opera, La Jolla -based Bodhi Tree Concerts and the popular SACRA/PROFANA choral ensemble you may have seen in La Jolla Playhouse's 2014 production of "The Hunchback of Notre Dame."

"All Is Calm," playing Dec. 7, 8 and 9 at the Balboa Theatre downtown, is part of this season's Detour series, an annual trio of smaller-scale works that San Diego Opera started offering in 2016.

This one was inspired by an actual Christmas-time event during World War I when, spontaneously, soldiers from German and Allied forces ceased fighting, came out of their trenches, and began singing carols, sharing food and playing soccer.

The battle resumed the next morning, and the war dragged on for another four years, but for that blessed time, all was calm.

Written by Peter Rothstein, co-founder/artistic director of Minneapolis-based Theater Latté Da, "All is Calm" is an a capella opera — 16 voices, all men, doing choral singing, solos and spoken word without the accompaniment of an orchestra. It includes English, French and German Christmas carols, patriotic songs, and excerpts from the letters of soldiers who were there.

And its message is timely: Even enemies can find a way to come together in peace and friendship.

The opera, first presented in 2007 as a radio broadcast, has taken its live production to venues like the Kennedy Center and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and is currently playing off-Broadway through Dec. 30. But San Diego's "All is Calm" is a local affair, originally performed at the Veterans Museum in Balboa Park in 2016 and 2017, and now expanded into a fully-staged piece for the 1,300-seat Balboa Theatre.

"We're using our own local singers, with blessings and permissions from the opera's originators, so it's a real San Diego production," said Edward Wilensky, SD Opera's public relations director. He's been at the Opera for the past 19 years, and before that, he was at La Jolla Playhouse, working on a different kind of musical theater — "Thoroughly Modern Millie."

"Music creates community, it's the glue that helps keep us together," he said in a recent interview. "Operas are about big, universal things like love, loss, anger, desire; opera takes these emotions and puts them onstage with beautiful visuals, drama and songs.

"And this one — it's perfect timing, after the divisive elections and the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day and just before the holidays. It has a great message of unity, that despite our differences, we all belong to one another, and it gives us a chance to come together in a shared space and have this message sung to us."

Directed by Alan E. Hicks, Director of Opera Theatre (a newly-created position with the Opera and SDSU), "All is Calm" will be broadcast live on KPBS2 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 8. After that, it will go online at kpbs.org But wouldn't it be more exciting to see it onstage?

IF YOU GO: "All Is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914," 70 minutes, no intermission, pre-opera talk by Nicolas Reveles, 7 p.m. Dec. 7 and 8; 2 p.m. Dec. 9, 2018at Balboa Theatre, 868 Fourth Ave., downtown San Diego. Tickets: $35-$160 adults, $13-$75 children. sdopera.org

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