University of Hartford "H" Magazine - Winter 2019

University of Hartford

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Sunday Afternoon at the Opera - Hindemith: Das lange Weihnachtsmahl; Eybler: Die Hirten bei der Krippe zu Bethlehem

12/24/2023 1:00 pm
12/24/2023 4:30 pm


Sunday Afternoon at the Opera host Keith Brown writes:

You listeners will be, musically speaking, spending Christmas Eve 2023 among German-speaking folk. Fond memories of Christmas dinner with family are part of the holiday idyll. What if it were possible to attend a Christmas feast that encompasses ninety years of a family's history? That's what the distinguished American playwright Thornton Wilder had in mind in his one-act play, The Long Christmas Dinner (1931). German composer Paul Hindemith (1895-1963) approached Wilder about reworking his play into a suitable opera libretto. Wilder took on the challenge and gave Hindemith the permission he wanted for his last opera, Das lange Weihnachtsmahl (1960-61).

Hindemith himself translated Wilder's libretto into German and crafted his music so that the opera could be sung in either English or German. On Sunday, December 19, 2010 I broadcast the German language version in a 2005 Wergo recording with Marek Janowski conducting the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra and vocal soloists. Then on Sunday, December 20, 2015 came the English language version, as recorded live at Lincoln Center, NYC on a Bridge CD. This Sunday I revert to the German version of the Christmas dinner opera.

This is also the perfect moment for a Nativity oratorio, so I again fall back on a recording I had last aired on Sunday, December 20, 2009 of Die Hirten bei der Krippe zu Bethlehem ("The Shepherds at the Manger in Bethlehem," 1794) by Joseph Leopold Eybler (1765-1846), a student and close friend of Mozart. If you like Haydn's Creation or his Seasons oratorio you'll love this Christmas seasonal work of Eybler's.

The score of Eybler's oratorio is found in the Austrian National Library. Conductor Wolfgang Helbich took it up, preparing it for modern performance with instrumental parts he had to compose himself for the missing ones in the closing choral number. Helbich leads the period instrument ensemble I Febiarmonici, the choir of Bremen Cathedral, the Alsfeld Vocal Ensemble, and vocal soloists. The Eybler Nativity oratorio was recorded in 1999 for the German CPO label in co-production with Radio Bremen.