Have yourself a bombastic operatic Christmas

If you want to escape the tyranny of pop singers cooing Christmas music, how about opera singers bellowing Christmas music instead? Sure, you could go for the Messiah, or Jessica Duchen’s tasteful and highbrow selections, or the glory of Alex Ross’s Messiah on Crack, but you know you really want chimes, children’s choirs, harps, and Roberto Alagna singing in German. Here follows the worst and a few of the best attempts of opera singers celebrating Christmas. (For some reason these selections seem to hail disproportionately from German-speaking countries. I cannot imagine why.)

Bryn Terfel and Bing Crosby, “White Christmas”

That’s right, it’s a duet (before Angela teamed up with Maria Callas). Not only does Bryn harmonize with Bing, he also stars in a a bargain basement green screened video in which he throws a CGI snowball. That’s how you know you’ve reached the classical crossover big time.

Leontyne Price, “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”

you actually want something to enjoy unironically for some reason,
Leontyne Price’s traditional carols are lovely. Someone tell that
harpsichordist to stop practicing his or her etudes, though.

Roberto Alagna and Thomas Hampson, “O Tannenbaum”

The biggest problem facing opera singers attempting traditional carols is an inability to relax. This is the most notable attribute of Thomas Hampson’s meticulous, perfectly pronounced, and less than rousing rendition of “O Tanenbaum,” though there’s also the novelty value of Roberto Alagna singing in German, and the orchestra earns its paycheck at the end.

Kiri Te Kanawa and the King’s Singers, A Little Christmas Music

Kiri Te Kanawa has a reputation for blank humorlessness, but this is pretty hilarious.

Placido Domingo, Ying Huang, Michael Bolton, medley

Trust the Viennese to forge this unholy musical alliance. Poor Ying Huang is like, “They told me I’d be singing with Placido Domingo. They didn’t mention the Austrian children or Michael Bolton. I’m on TV so I’m just going to smile. Later I’ll fire my agent.” 

Kurt Rydl, “Jingle Bells” and “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” (from Intermezzo)

I imagine Santa is a bass. But American Christmas carols sung by a cavernous-voiced Austrian bass (or, as Intermezzo puts it, “Der Megabass” are undeniably ridiculous.

“O Holy Night” (in French “Cantique de Nöel” or “Minuit, chrétiens”) is a carol whose demands can make amateurs and pop singers, well, fall on our knees. But Adolphe Adam’s big sing is a magnet for opera types, who are often better equipped for its grandiosity than they would be for something more modest.

Jussi Björling, my favorite of the lot (in Swedish)

Duet by Juan Diego Flórez (in French) and Elina Garanca (in English, sort of)

Jessye Norman (English, and the grandest of them all)

Georges Thill (the most French, suggested by Lisa below)

More suggestions welcome in the comments!

You may also like


  1. Franco Corelli in O Holy Night is one of the most hilarious recordings of the piece I've heard – SO over-the-top.

  2. It is odd Zerb. They don't particularly like opera/classical in parts Teutonic. Probably why so few performances available.

    Jonas is great and I sorta like like the JDF/Elina one (that's a very flattering combo on her).

    Bjorling is also my favorite but then that pretty much applies anything he sang (in the tenor repertoire especially).

  3. Sorry about that, Lisa, it's probably a blip in my design somewhere; I added the Thill to the Holy Nights above. But Marcillac, I have to disagree with you about Garanca in this (though she can wear that dress), I can hear hardly a trace of expression or feeling like I can to varying extents in all the others. Elsewhere in the same concert she did this Schlager number that is terrifyingly blank: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uliFIRj63u0