Review: “The Long Christmas Dinner”—as play and opera

Posted on: December 22, 2014

In Sunday’s (12/21) New York Times, Anthony Tommasini reviews the American Symphony Orchestra’s December 19 performance of a double bill of Thornton Wilder’s 1931 one-act play The Long Christmas Dinner with Paul Hindemith’s 1961 opera based on the play. Leon Botstein led the orchestra and singers; Jonathan Rosenberg directed the actors. “Each work is roughly 40 minutes,” writes Tommasini, “which made for a pragmatic double bill and a fresh holiday-season offering. Here was a tangible demonstration of the contrasting ways theater and opera can handle dramatic narrative. … Wilder’s simple idea of tracing the history of a family through snippets of Christmas dinners had a powerful effect in this sensitive performance. … Hindemith found a musically astute collaborator in Wilder, who was an accomplished amateur musician. Besides cutting the text of the play considerably, Wilder wrote new rhymed lyrics for arias and ensembles. Stylistically, this opera shows Hindemith in his tart Neo-Classical mode. Seeing darkness and tension below the deceptively mundane surface of Wilder’s play, Hindemith tapped into those emotions though this searching, restless score. … Over all, the music is an intriguing blend of jumpy energy and weighty solemnity. … Mr. Botstein drew a colorful, sure-paced performance from the orchestra.”

Posted December 22, 2014