The Long Christmas Dinner, a jewel of an opera by Paul Hindemith, is available as a recording in the composer’s own translation into German.
My first and everlasting impression of the Hindemith opera, The Long Christmas Dinner, is another of those personally monumental events whereby the introduction was paired with an interpretation that would remain a lifelong standard of measurement. My fellow conservatory students put on a production of this work — previously unknown to me — that was to take up vivid residence in my mind’s eye and ear. The piece itself, being of a rather different nature than the instrumental chamber music and symphonic compositions with which I was familiar, deepened my abiding love for Hindemith’s oeuvre even further.
Playwright as librettist; composer Hindemith as translator
Thornton Wilder’s play by the same name attracted Hindemith’s attention as the basis for an opera; the playwright was asked to write a libretto excerpted from his theatre piece. A very wonderful result was achieved from the collaboration, in which the 90-year span of the storyline received an illustrative framework of repeating musical themes and the eleven characters were developed and bound together with the contrapuntal voices the composer bestowed upon them. With quotations from a well-known Christmas carol as well as a nod here and there to dance forms from bygone eras, a sense of passing generations is superimposed onto the details of the moment at hand: very effective and extremely moving.
It was Hindemith himself who translated the opera from English into his native German; although the 1961 premiere of the original (with the composer conducting) was documented on a long-playing record set, the first (and thus far, the only) commercial recording is of the latter, translated version (which premiered in Mannheim, before the first performance in English). Fortunately we do have in the available recording a most satisfying account of this gem, well worth listening to time and again.