The best Christmas operas of all time

Five of the best festive operas set around the Christmas period

Best Christmas operas

Tchaikovsky Cherevichki (1876)

Inspired by Gogol’s Christmas Eve (as was Rimsky-Korsakov’s Christmas Eve) Tchaikovsky’s opera tells how Vakula, a smith, flies on the devil’s back to St Petersburg. There he gets hold of the empress’s leather boots, as requested by the beautiful Oksana, with whom he is smitten. On his return, Oksana then tells him she loves him anyway, boots or no boots. How typical.

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As well as being one of the greatest opera composers ever we named Tchaikovsky as one of the best ballet composers ever as well as one of the greatest composers of all time

Massenet Werther (1892)

Oh dear. As we hear children joyfully singing ‘Noel’ at the end of Massenet’s opera, inside the study of Albert’s house Werther lies dying, the result of self-inflicted gunshot wounds. Though not the way one would ideally want to spend Christmas Eve, he is at least consoled by Charlotte revealing that it is he, not Albert, she loves. All a bit late, really.

Pfitzner Das Christ-Elflein (1906)

Opera does not get much more sentimental than Hans Pfitzner’s festive tale. A little elf learns about the miracle of Christmas from the Christ-child himself. As he does so, the elf selflessly volunteers to swap places with a terminally ill girl, who recovers. Pfitzner’s lush score has more than a touch of Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel to it.

Menotti Amahl and the Night Visitors (1951)

Hieronymous Bosch’s painting The Adoration of the Magi was the inspiration for Gian Carlo Menotti’s charming tale about Amahl, a disabled boy who meets the Three Wise Men. When, with nothing else to give the new-born Jesus, Amahl offers his crutch, he is immediately healed. The opera has become something of a festive favourite in the US.

Hindemith The Long Christmas Dinner (1960)

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Hindemith’s final opera portrays 90 years of Christmas dinners being celebrated by the Bayards, a family living in the US Midwest from 1840-1930. Except ‘celebrated’ is not really the word. During the opera’s one-act course, the family members get drunk, quarrel, grow depressed and, in a variety of ways, die. Jolly stuff.