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.

Massenet: Werther

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.


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