The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


A night at the opera

Could it tell the Christmas story?

Occasionally I go to the opera, but I’m not a great fan. Most stories seem rather silly, many librettos even sillier. Sometimes I wonder why the composer would select such poor poetry to set his music to. Perhaps I’ve been attending the wrong operas.

Opera glassesWhat if the text were the Christmas story, as told by Matthew and Luke? There a composer finds marvelous poetry in a tale of contrasts—light and dark, power and weakness. The drama begins with an elderly couple, Elizabeth and Zechariah, who long for a child. It ends with two other elders, Simeon and Anna, who recognize another baby as holy. In between, of course, the main story of Mary and Joseph builds—with disbelief, joy and despair intertwined.

Consider the potential for music. We could hear an aria from Mary’s Magnificat. Solos from Zechariah, Gabriel and Simeon. A duet from Elizabeth and Mary. Choruses of angels, priests and scribes, soldiers and wise men.

Consider the range of scenes. We could find ourselves in a temple, a palace, a humble home, a stable. Other characters come into view: a king in royal robes and another in swaddling clothes, priests, soldiers, shepherds, Magi from afar and, of course, angels.

All that is missing is the music. The original score has been lost. Many composers have since written lovely Christmas music, but none a grand opera. This great story awaits a great composer.

Yet, it may be that this story is so magnificent that no one composer, no one piece of music could do this.


Allen Simon

Allen Simon

Posted at 2:06 am (U.S. Eastern) 11/28/2008

It's not an opera, but our community choir Soli Deo Gloria is premiering a full-length oratorio based on the Christmas story, featuring a duet for Elizabeth and Zechariah, an aria for Mary, a solo for Gabriel (although it's sung by a woman so we're referring to her as Gabrielle), extensive passages for the Magi, the shepherds, and much more.

Audience members will have to judge for themselves whether it's been set by a "great composer", but at least the attempt is being made here in the SF Bay Area this December. For more information see

George C. Bullwinkle

George C. Bullwinkle

Posted at 11:37 am (U.S. Eastern) 2/25/2009

To answer Richard's question, there is a Christmas story opera,"Amahl and the Night Visitors", by Gian Carlo Menoti shown on NBC TV Dec. 1951. Our adult Sunday School Class used it coincidentally this past Dec. by playing a DVD of the kinescope of the original TV show.

George C. Bullwinkle

member of The Lutheran Church of The Good Shepherd, King of Prussia, PA.

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