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Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1963)
The Long Christmas Dinner - opera (1960/61) [48:49]
Camille Zamora (soprano) - Lucia I/Lucia II
Sara Murphy (mezzo) - Mother Bayard/Ermengarde
Jarrett Ott (baritone) - Roderick/Sam
Josh Quinn (bass-baritone) - Brandon
Glenn Seven Allen (tenor) - Charles
Catherine Martin (mezzo) - Genevieve
Kathryn Guthrie (soprano) - Leonora
Scott Murphree (tenor) - Roderick II
American Symphony Orchestra/Leon Botstein
rec. live, 19 December 2014, Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, New York City
BRIDGE 9449 [48:49]

Paul Hindemith was never well known for his operas, although Cardillac and Mathis der Maler have received the occasional outing and recordings. The opera presented here, The Long Christmas Dinner, based on Thornton Wilder's play, is rarer still. It receives its first English-language recording here and was worth waiting for. Marek Janowski recorded the German version of the opera, which Hindemith had translated himself, for Wergo's Hindemith edition (WER 66762). I have not heard that account but, as the original is in English and Hindemith conducted the first English performance shortly before his death in 1963, it is important to hear the opera in its original language.

Nick Barnard described the plot well in his review for this website, so I will not repeat that here. The house in which the Bayard family celebrated some ninety years-worth of Christmas dinners acts as a central motif for the opera. The question, "How long have we been in this house?" crops up from time to time, as does the mention of the family's presence or absence in church during the Christmas holidays. The events of the family, its trials and tribulations and its happiest times, are the subject of the Christmas conversation and lend an air of nostalgia to the plot. The ending of the opera contains irony and a bit of humour when cousin Ermengarde, now old, reads a letter with the news that the younger generation of the family is building a new house. Her last words are, "Fancy that!"

This recording was taken from a December 2014 production at New York's Alice Tully Hall. Conductor Leon Botstein had the brilliant idea to precede the opera performance with one of the original Wilder play. It was received very well and would have been nice had it been included here, since the opera is very short and Bridge has enclosed the single disc in a double CD case. One assumes this was done to make room for the rather thick booklet, which includes the complete libretto both in English and in German. What we get, though, is an excellent account of this opera. There are really no weak links in the casting with the some of singers taking more than one role. Botstein and the American Symphony clearly have the measure of the work, too.

Overall, I found the orchestral parts more interesting than the vocal ones. Hindemith adapts the traditional carol, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen with his typical "wrong note" harmony effectively as the opera's prelude and then brings it back at the work's end to tie things together. He excels in the kind of contrapuntal writing that underpins the vocal line, though there are also effective lyrical, aria-like passages. The sextet where a young member of the family, Sam, who is home on military leave, reminisces and then goes off to war while the others sing of the weather is really memorable. It is the high point of the opera. We owe Bridge a debt of gratitude for making this performance available, as I very much doubt we will get another recording soon. All fans of Hindemith should try to hear it.

Leslie Wright

Previous review: Nick Barnard


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