The Long Christmas Dinner (opera)

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The Long Christmas Dinner is an opera in one act by Paul Hindemith, with an English libretto by Thornton Wilder based on his play of the same name.

Wilder collaborated with the composer in order to make the text work effectively with the music. It was arranged for chamber orchestra and used a harpsichord.

Performance history[edit]

It was first performed on 13 March 1963, at the Juilliard School of Music, New York under the direction of the composer. A digital recording of the work on the Wergo label was performed in the German language; Hindemith himself provided the translation of the English libretto into German. A commercial recording in English has yet to be made.

Roles[edit]

Role Voice type Premiere Cast, 13 March 1963
(Conductor: Paul Hindemith)
Lucia I soprano
Lucia II soprano
Leonora soprano
Mother Bayard contralto
Ermengarde contralto
Geneviève mezzo-soprano
Charles tenor
Roderick I baritone
Roderick II tenor
Sam baritone
Brandon bass

Synopsis[edit]

The opera depicts 90 years in the history of the mid-western Bayard family.

The opera opens with Lucia, wife of Roderick Bayard, setting the table for Christmas dinner. Having finished, she calls down her husband and his mother, who is joining them in their first Christmas dinner in their new house. Over dinner, Roderick’s mother, referred to as Mother Bayard, recalls a time in her childhood when Indians lived where the house now rests; at the time, there was no city, only a church and surrounding forestry. She goes on to discuss the importance of remembering the names of one’s ancestors.

The opera moves forward to another Christmas dinner between Roderick, Lucia, and Mother Bayard, this time joined by Roderick’s cousin Brandon, who is back from his time spent in Alaska. As they eat, Brandon asks Mother Bayard how the two are related. As the years go on, Mother Bayard passes away, leaving Lucia, Roderick, and Brandon. All three wonder aloud how long they’ve resided in the Bayard house, remarking on how quickly the time flies. Soon after Mother Bayard passes away, Lucia’s and Roderick’s son Charles is born. Not long after the birth of their son, another baby arrives: Genevieve, their daughter.

Again, the action moves forward in time to a later Christmas dinner which is joined by a grown-up Charles and Genevieve; Roderick, Lucia, and Brandon have all aged significantly. The men give a toast to the firm owned and run by the Bayard family, and the women join in on the merriment. Roderick passes away shortly after this point in time, leaving behind a devastated Lucia. She, Brandon, Genevieve, and Charles reflect on dinners of Christmas' passed. After a quick change in subject, Genevieve announces to her mother that Charles is engaged to be married, adding that she herself will never marry, so that she may always remain with her mother.

The scene shifts briefly to show the marriage of Charles and his wife, Leonora. The newlyweds join Lucia, Brandon, and Genevieve for Christmas dinner. Not long after Charles and Leonora marry, the couple birth a baby—however, the baby dies in infancy. Brandon passes away, and is quickly followed by Lucia. The death of Lucia greatly devastates Genevieve, who is left wondering what to do with her life. On the tail end of Lucia's death is the birth of Leonora's fraternal twins: Sam and Lucia II Bayard. Not long afterward, Roderick Brandon Bayard II is also born.

Leonora and Charles write to the latter’s cousin Ermengarde, asking her to stay with them. During dinner one Christmas, Ermengarde and Charles discuss their relations and reminisce about their ancestors. Sam, on holiday leave from the military, joins the family for Christmas dinner along with his twin sister, Lucia II. Sam tells his family to do what they normally do on Christmas Day, so that he may cherish the memory of his family’s Christmas dinner. Soon after, he goes off to the Korean War and dies there.

Years later, Roderick II jovially joins the family, talking of his and Lucia II’s fun time at the ball. Charles berates Roderick II for getting drunk and making a fool of himself, and reminds him that he will soon enter the family firm. Roderick II lashes out angrily, claiming that the town in which they live is so dull that drinking is the only way to endure it. He angrily storms out as he exclaims that he will move away to a “town where something happens,” despite his mother's pleading that he stay. Lucia leaves soon afterward to travel with her spouse, promising to bring children back with her.

Charles and Ermengarde both fall ill, and an atmosphere of sadness is draped over the household. Eventually, Genevieve snaps, fed up with her life of depression following her mother’s death. She informs her family that she will go away to die alone, and leaves.

Charles writes his son a letter, forgiving him for tarnishing the family name and refusing to carry on with the firm. He promises to send him another message the following Christmas, but dies before he is able to do so.

Leonora’s health declines as she is left with only a dying Ermengarde in the house. The two try to reflect on just how old the house has become: it is nearly ninety years old by this point. Leonora tells Ermengarde that she may have the house if she wants it, as there are no more children around to inherit it. Leonora leaves the room, and Ermengarde finds a letter sent to the house by Lucia II. Attached are pictures of her children--a boy named Roderick III and a girl named Lucia III—along with a letter, informing her that a new Bayard house has been built by Lucia II and Roderick II. Whilst reading the letter, Ermengarde passes away.

References[edit]