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~ About the Opera ~


A Truce of Carols is a one act opera based on the spontaneous cease-fire in WW I on Christmas Eve and Christmas day, 1914.  With hundreds of thousands already dead or wounded in the first six months of hostilities, many thought the idea of a Christmas truce would not only be a travesty, but probably impossible to implement.  For more on the history of the truce, click on the link About the Truce.

The opera is based on a conglomerate of true stories expressed through fictional characters.  Where appropriate, German is used, but English is the main language of the opera. Running time 1:25

soldiers drinking in Trench WW I

~ Synopsis ~


The opera opens with a musical Prelude showing projections of La Belle Epoch period just before the war.  Two couples, one young unmarried couple from England, and one German married couple with a young son are shown in pantomime, happily enjoying the peace just weeks before the war.  Their scenes take place on the far right and left of stage.

London Embanckment 1913

The Overture follows the prelude with projections showing the start of the war. 

The singing begins with the young English couple, Jonathan and Constance now engaged, singing of his imminent departure to the front.

The scene shifts to the German couple as Lt. Gottlieb bids his wife Inge and young son Christian goodbye.  Both soldiers assure their loved ones that the war will be over before Christmas, and both women warn their men to avoid those loose, French women.   A quartet ends the farewell. 

Both soldiers then step out onto the main stage and are given rifles on the dimly lit stage.  They take aim at each other from opposite sides of the stage and as a gunshot sounds, the stage is blacked out. 

Inge and Gottlieb say goodbye

Scene 1 - English Trenches
The first scene of the war takes place on Christmas Eve in the English trenches.  Timothy, a young recruit is on guard while his comrades sleep and play cards.  He questions Sgt. Angus MacGrath, a Scotsman, about what to expect in fighting those "demon Huns."   The sergeant dispels Timothy’s misguided bigotry singing, “They’re butchers and bakers and candlestick makers, just like you and me lad.” 

The young Lt. Worthing enters wishing the lads a Good Christmas and warning them against enemy fraternization.  Before exiting, he lets them know there will be Christmas gifts from Princes Mary herself. 

After Lt. Worthing leaves, Timothy resumes his watch and the rest of the men drift off to sleep.  Timothy hears Christmas carols coming from the German trenches and unsuccessfully tries to alert the sergeant.  Upon shooting at a Christmas tree he sees on the parapet of the German trench, the rest of the men jump to their posts expecting an attack only to be serenaded by more Christmas Carols from the Germans.  After receiving a boot thrown from the German trench filled with goodies , the English retaliate with a carol of their own, God Rest ye Merry Gentlemen. 

English Trench

Scene 2 – German Trenches (sung in German)
The German trench is filled with small Christmas trees and barrels of beer.  One or two Germans keep watch.  Günther, a medic and minister has come up with an outlandish idea.  He wants to bring a small Christmas tree to the English. His comrades are horrified, but the thought amuses Markus, a Prussian sniper who is disgusted with the festivities and songs.  Günther sings of the tree as a symbol of peace. 

The plot is discouraged with the arrival of Lt. Gottlieb.  Gottlieb takes Markus aside and warns him to keep the men in line and allow no fraternization.  Markus congratulates Gottlieb on his good shooting earlier in the day.  Gottlieb eschews Markus’ compliment as he has had his fill of death.

German Trench

Scene 3 – The Truce begins
After a shelling puts a temporary halt to the singing on both sides,  the scene opens up to no-man’s land in the middle of the stage with the German and English trenches on opposite sides of the stage.  As the bombing dies down and both sides are on alert, Günther is seen crossing no-man’s land which is strewn with bodies and barged wire.  He holds out a small Christmas tree and sings “Lo How a Rose Ere Blooming” as he carefully crosses to the English trench, finally setting the tree down on the English parapet.  Astounded, the English hold their fire.  Soon both sides join in singing the carol in their own language. 

The two Lieutenants cross into no-man’s land and agree to a temporary truce so they many bury their dead.  Günther checks each body for signs of life and soon discovers Jonathan, injured but very much alive.  Both sides are delighted at finding any survivor.  Günther leads an impromptu service as crosses are placed on the burial mounds. 

No Man's Land

Scene 3 - The soccer match
After the service, Timothy runs in with a soccer ball, and both sides see a soccer match beginning offstage.  All but Jonathan and the two Lieutenants run offstage to join the game.  Jonathan dozes while Worthing and Gottlieb share details of their lives.

Sgt. MacGrath soon returns having stolen the ball and is chased by the Germans.  MacGrath kicks the ball offstage back into play.  Cursing the cheating Germans, Sgt. Mac lifts his kilt and moons his erstwhile opponents to offstage hooting, laughter and catcalls.  Lt. Worthing follows the Sergeant offstage in case there’s any trouble. 

Lt. Gottlieb strikes up a conversation with Jonathan asking him about his home.  Jonathan replies “.. this coming from the man that shot me, why that practically makes us best of friends”.  Jonathan reads (sings) Gottlieb a poem that he’d written to his fiancé back in England.  Lt. Worthing soon returns with mail and Jonathan and Gottlieb retire to their trenches reading their letters from home.

Soccer match

Scene 3 – Writing Home
The lights come up on stage right as Constance is writing Jonathan a letter sharing news from home, but mostly expressing her love.  She sings “Please write me you’ll be safe, please write me you’ll be home, God write me anything at all.” 

Lights then come up on Inge who is writing Gottlieb.  She sings of then moments when she hears what she thinks are is his footsteps, “…thinking it might be you…” The two women then sing in duet of their love and longing.

Writing home Connie

Angus’s Victory
The men from both sides return from the soccer match having rewarded the soccer ball to Angus.  The Germans won, because, as Günther points out, the refs were all German officers.  The men ask permission to share their food and drink and both Lieutenants, despite the danger of court marshal or worse, allow the meal to take place. 

Lt. Gottlieb offers a toast to peace, but is interrupted by Markus, the Prussian sniper who denounces the truce as a waste of time as they will be shooting each other in the morning and the peace will have meant nothing. 

Lt. Worthing disputes this take on the truce and tells of all the letters that are being sent to loved ones describing this amazing event.  He sings “..it’s a message that must survive, this and every war.  I give you a toast to peace and to hope” 


Mighty Jock

The Truce Ends
Bombing is heard in the distance and the men know that “.. der Friede ist vorüber.  They bid each other farewell as a solo violin in the distance is heard playing “O Holy Night” ,  a song still mostly unknown at the time.  Jonathan, showing signs of weakness from his wounds bids Lt. Gottlieb farewell and gives his letters and poems to Lt. Worthing to send to his fiancé back in England.  The men exit opposite sides of the stage singing different carols, loudly trying to outdo each other. 

Truce ends

Final Scene
The lights come up on Constance in England just as Lt. Worthing is bringing her Jonathans letters.   Her fiancé does not survive the war, and Constance can barely summon the courage to read Jonathan’s letters and poems.  She slowly reads the very same poem that Jonathan read to Gottlieb.  Just as she might imagine him reading it, Jonathan appears behind a scrim and sings the words to the poem.  A tearful Constance joins him in singing the verse, but finishes alone as the lights fade on the scrim leaving only Constance and Lt. Worthing.

The lights come up on Lt. Gottlieb’s home. When he arrives he finds no one at home.  Music from his aria plays as he sits exhausted at the kitchen table.  Inge and his son Christian arrive and she reprises her aria.  Gottlieb rises and joins her in duet assuring her that it will finally and always be his footsteps that she hears.     

  Final Scene Cont.
Lights come up on Constance and Worthing and both women ask the Lieutenants to tell them of the war.  The Lieutenants reply that it was a very big war and they wouldn’t know where to begin.  Inge and Constance ask them to speak about that first Christmas day.  Instead of replying, both Lieutenants bring the ladies to the right and left side of the main stage.  The lights come up revealing all of the soldiers upstage center, posing for a picture taken on the day of the Christmas truce.  As the flash goes off, a picture of the cast of soldiers is projected on the psyche.  All turn and look at the picture, which, after the music winds down, cross fades into a picture of the actual soldiers from Christmas Eve, 1914.
Cast and real soldiers
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Production Pictures by Robert Snedegar

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