Seeking humanity in War by Tomer Zvulun

Director Tomer Zvulun reflects on WNO’s next production: Silent Night

From the first moment I listened to Silent Night, I felt that it deeply touched a personal side in me. Kevin Puts’s music along with Mark Campbell’s libretto uniquely captures the dichotomy of love and war and creates a world that is both specific and universal at once. It captures the humanity of the characters and the comforts that friendship and music bring to the bloodiest of all human experiences—war.As an Israeli, I know war very intimately. It was around ever since I remember myself. From the Lebanon War in my childhood in the 1980s through the Intifada and the suicide bombings in the streets of Tel Aviv in the 1990s to the current endless battle at the Gaza strip, war is a state of being in Israel.

In the early 1990s I entered the most surreal situation possible for a carefree teenager: I served in the Army for three years as a medic in a combat infantry unit. As a young 18 year old, I learned a thing or two about violence, fear, loss, and the constant brush with death. I learned to shoot, fight, run, hide—not only physically, but also emotionally. I hid the fear of dying young.

What got me through that time and stayed with me forever was the humanity that I found in every situation daily: the strong friendships we formed, the coffee we shared on endless nights, the music we listened to in sentry, and the stories I heard from my comrades about their girlfriends, mothers, loves, lives, homes…Most of all, it was recognizing that we all hid that same fear: the fear that we may never see them again.

That is the most fundamental aspect of being a soldier: missing the ones you love, your family, your home, your innocence, your youth. Those may be lost forever as soon as you put on uniforms and walk out the door.

That’s why I found the story of Silent Night to be so moving, personal and yet universal at the same time. Each one of the characters is acutely aware of his mortality, fears, and loves. In the midst of this unimaginable time of terror, music, friendship, and humanity emerge to provide a momentary solace from the horrors of war.

Our production was conceived as an entangled nightmare, progressing vertically. The structure of the opera is extremely intricate and complicated. The space is the key to the concept: it allows for the fluidity that the storytelling requires. Frequently, the vertical nature of the set allows for simultaneous action on different levels.

War, whether today in Israel or a century ago all over Europe, evokes a chaotic, surreal world. The characters that inhabit this world are completely lost in it. As often is the case in war.

Tomer Zvulun dedicates this production to the memory of his commander, Avi Maimon, killed in Ramallah on duty on September 26, 1996.