ALBUM TITLE: The Long Christmas Dinner: An Opera by Paul Hindemith
WORKS: The Long Christmas Dinner
PERFORMER: Camille Zamora, Sara Murphy, Jarrett Ott, Josh Quinn, Glenn Seven Allen, Catherine Martin, Kathryn Guthrie, Scott Murphree; American Symphony Orchestra/Leon Botstein
CATALOGUE NO: 9449
At last, a recording of Hindemith’s final opera as he originally conceived it – in English, with a poignant libretto by no less a playwright than Thornton Wilder. Hindemith’s 1962 operatic adaptation of the Wilder play is a 50-minute one-acter full of the deep melancholy that characterises his late music, and Wilder’s meditation on the unending cycles of birth and death – condensing 90 years of Christmas dinners in the life of a comfortable Midwestern family – is well suited to musical forms. Though the opera was ultimately premiered in German (Hindemith’s own translation of the libretto must also count as ‘authentic’), it’s good to hear it sung by an American cast, who capture the essential Americanness of a piece that was Hindemith’s nostalgic tribute to his American years.
Alas, this is not quite the recording we have been waiting for. Although the American Symphony Orchestra plays warmly under Leon Botstein’s baton, the performance sounds a little laboured compared with that on the only other recording, Marek Janowski’s more idiomatically-attuned version (in German) for Wergo’s Hindemith Edition. Even the celebrated serenading sextet sounds a little earthbound, though that may have something to do with a slightly close, bass-heavy recording of a live event. Botstein has assembled a fine group of singers who blend well, several (above all the mezzo Sara Murphy) relishing the beauty of the words and the musical lines.
As expected of a Botstein enterprise, there are insightful notes. While worth having, this release won’t show newcomers what makes the opera such a special piece. John Allison