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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Finally, Hindemith & Wilder's Great American One-Act Opera (albeit in German), 12 April 2013
Nicholas A. Deutsch (Tarrytown, NY USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Hindemith - The Long Christmas Dinner (Audio CD)
It was a long wait for a recording of Paul Hindemith's last opera "The Long Christmas Dinner" (1960-61) but it was worth it. Along with the full-length "Mathis der Maler," this one-acter contains Hindemith's most satisfying operatic work. The composer's collaboration with American writer Thornton Wilder, who adapted the libretto from his 1931 play, was a happy one on both sides, and a successful match-up dramatically, theatrically and spiritually. Hindemith's death in 1963 unfortunately prevented the pair from collaborating on a projected companion piece based on Wilder's "Pullman Car Hiawatha," thus stranding "The Long Christmas Dinner" in "one-act limbo."

Wilder's play presents 90 Christmas dinners in the life of an upper-middle-class American family somewhere in the Middle West in the form of one continuous meal; flanking the stage are two doors representing Birth and Death, and characters - a total of 11 - arrive and depart as the years roll on. (In the opera, optional doublings of 3 of the roles emphasizes the circularity of family life.) Themes familiar from Wilder's "Our Town" are much in evidence: the mysteries of the passage of time and memory, the obliviousness of the living to the preciousness of each moment of life. The tone, with its combination of the comic (even satirical) and the compassionate, finds an ideal match in Hindemith's music, which can acommodate both. And Wilder, following the composer's detailed scenario, pared and reshaped his play into an effective and concise libretto.

The score is wonderful, from the prelude which subjects "God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen" to some characteristic Hindemith harmonic and orchestral treatment, to the trademark bustling neo-classical idiom (for once ideal to represent the surface energy of every-day life), and to the most affecting and beautiful element in the piece, the ensembles. There is a charming duet for 2 newlyweds, 2 magical trios in which time seems to slow down or stand suspended, and above all the climactic sextet, as a young World War I soldier about to return to the Front (and his death) observes 5 family members as they chatter at their holiday meal. Here Hindemith and Wilder achieve in music something of the profoundly poignant epiphany in the 3rd Act of "Our Town."

Hindemith set Wilder's text in English (as he had Walt Whitman in "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd") and made his own German performing translation; what we have here is "Das lange Weihnachtsmahl," not "The Long Christmas Dinner." Although the German version is done with skill and sensitivity, it's regrettable that the premiere recording doesn't use the original English. That said, this is an excellent performance, with fine playing by the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin under Marek Janowski's direction, well-cast throughout with attractive voices, and with outstanding work from soprano Ruth Ziesak (Lucia/Lucia II). Complete libretto in German, English & French.

Highly recommended.
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Hindemith - The Long Christmas Dinner
Hindemith - The Long Christmas Dinner by Ursula Hesse von den Steinen (Audio CD - 2005)
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