It’s almost time to hang the stockings, baste the turkey and choose your Christmas play list so Clive Paget takes a wander through his opera collection and picks the top ten works that take place over the festive season.
Juan Diego Flórez as Werther, celebrating Christmas. Photo: Herwig Prammer.
Hindemith: The Long Christmas Dinner
Paul Hindemith’s masterful setting of Thornton Wilder’s play compresses 90 years of Christmases into 50 thought-provoking minutes.
Menotti: Amahl and the Night Visitors
The ultimate Christmas feel-good opera can still draw a tear when the lame boy who tells tall stories is cured by the Christ child.
Puccini: La Bohéme
It may have a sad ending, but La Bohéme’s first two acts set on Christmas Eve are full of the joys of the season.
Britten: Paul Bunyan
Benjamin Britten and WH Auden’s Christmas party scene that concludes their American folk opera is a riot of ham, turkey and mince pies taken to excess.
John Adams: El Niño
John Adams’ take on the Nativity combines texts in English and Spanish to give the Christmas story a contemporary slant.
Rimsky-Korsakov: Christmas Eve
This charming folk opera set on a typically Russian Christmas Eve features a comical devil, a lot of dancing and a quest for a pair of the Tsarina’s slippers.
Pfitzner: The Christmas Elf
A rival to Humperdinck’s Hänsel und Gretel (which is not set at Christmas), Pfitzner’s fairy-tale tells how an elf and a grumpy fir tree cure a sick child with the help of the Christ child.
Britten: St Nicolas
OK, it’s not strictly speaking an opera, but Britten’s eminently stageable, heart-warming cantata tells the real story of Santa Claus.
Heggie: It’s a Wonderful Life
Jake Heggie’s operatic version of the popular Christmas film about a man redeemed as he’s about to commit suicide on Christmas Eve is full of tuneful life.
The ultimate Christmas downer climaxes on Christmas Eve with Werther’s suicide and the sound of children singing carols outside. Hardly seasonal fun for all the family.