To the Editors:
John Updike includes “unrealized operatic projects” among Thornton Wilder’s might-have-beens [NYR, December 4, 2003]; your readers may be unaware of one project that was realized, Wilder’s libretto for an opera based on his one-act play The Long Christmas Dinner by the great German composer Paul Hindemith. This was not merely a matter of allowing Hindemith to trim the play, but an active collaboration that involved rethinking and reworking the text, as well as some fresh writing. The opera received critical acclaim both at its 1961 world première in Mannheim (in German translation) and in its English-language première, at the Juilliard School in 1963. Wilder and Hindemith hoped to collaborate again on a companion piece—Wilder’s comedy Pullman Car Hiawatha—but the composer’s death in 1963 ended these plans, and the operatic Long Christmas Dinner was left stranded in the limbo where so many worthy “uncoupled” one-act operas languish. No doubt one day there will be a recording (in English, please!) from Wergo, as part of their complete Paul Hindemith Edition. But with a running time of sixty minutes, one set, eleven good roles for women and men (some doubling possible), and an orchestra of thirty-four, it is well within the means of many American opera companies and music schools.
New York City