A Gift of Song

A family Christmas opera in three scenes, with orchestra. Commissioned by the Junior League of Pasadena, libretto by the composer.



CAST
KARL FRANZ FELIX, 12 year old son of the composer of "Silent Night" Soprano (Adult)

ANNALISA, his older sisterSoprano

PAPA GRUBER, in his middle sixtiesBaritone

MAMA GRUBERMezzo Soprano

CHOIRMEISTER WILHELM, Choir director at St. Peter's Monastery (early twenties) Tenor

HERR CHOIRMEISTER DOKTOR GEHEIMRAT PROFESSOR VON SCHMALLPIATZ, 
ambassador from the King of Prussia Baritone

RUDI, choirboy at St. Peters'Soprano (Adult)

PAGE,Speaking Role
CHOIRBOYS AT ST. PETER'S and VILLAGERS,
Any number, from six to eighteen, of choir boys may be used. Good three-part singing is essential. Young adults are recommended unless a boys' choir of exceptional musical and dramatic ability is available. Villagers for final tableau, may be few in number and may consist of children and/or family groups. Unison or mixed.

INSTRUMENTATION
Flute ( Doubling Piccolo ) 
Oboe 
Clarinets I-ii 
Bassoon
Horns L-li 
Trumpet 
Timpani 
Percussion
Harp 
Piano
Strings
Duration: Approximately 65 minutes
STORY OF THE OPERA

Scene One: Karl Franz gaily sorts and packs things for his journey that evening to the famous choir school in Salzburg where he will stay for a year. He is assisted by his older sister Annalisa who teases him about his ability to sing. Indignant, Karl challenges her to a singing contest in which they both try to out-sing each other. When Annalisa wistfully expresses the wish to go away to a big city and her disgust at having to stay in "this stupid little village", Karl teases her about getting "old and fat", and their merry chase around the room is interrupted by Papa Gruber, who scolds them both and then calls Mama to come and help finish the packing. Mama brings Karl's new coat and lunch box and then breaks down and weeps at the thought of his going. Papa comforts her and then suggests that they all sing together once more before Karl goes. Mama requests "Papa's little Christmas song" as she is afraid that Karl will forget it with all the famous music he will be learning at the choir school. Karl says he could never forget it because it is his favorite song. Very simply he sings Gruber's "Silent Night" in the original German and then continues in a high descant as the other members of the family join in the singing. Snow falls slowly. After a loving farewell, Papa escorts Karl through the forest to meet the stage coach for Salzburg.

Scene Two: As the coach horn dies away and after a few bars of quick musical transition, the left side of the stage "erupts" with the lively pranks and gay singing of the choir boys in the choir rehearsal room at St. Peter's. The mischief includes a "loop" on the head of the young choirmaster, but the culprit is saved from a switching by the entrance of a page who announces the arrival of the musical ambassador from the King of Prussia. As everyone scurries to his place, the pompous Von Schmallplatz enters, and the page reads a proclamation about a "beautiful Christmas song" whose composer the King is anxious to find. After the choirboys and page are dismissed, Von Schmallplatz shows choirmaster Wilhelm a copy of the song which is none other than Gruber's "Silent Night". Wilhelm has never heard it but keeps it to teach it to his boys. As they go out, the choirboys rush in, playing "keep away" with a basket that has just arrived from home for Karl Franz. When he finally gets it and opens it, there is a Christmas pudding inside, complete with a large sprig of prickly holly. They hear the choirmaster and Schmallplatz returning and Rudi hides the pudding behind his back, as he sirs in the last row and Karl must sit right up in front. They sing for Schmallplatz and then he requests a solo. Rudi is picked to sing just after he has taken a large bite of pudding. His comical attempt to sing with the pudding in his mouth and his frantic efforts to please the fussy Schmallplatz cause him to sing very poorly and 'way off key, which infuriates Schmallplatz who throws the music to the floor and scolds Wilhelm for his inferior teaching. In the meantime, the pudding has circulated among the boys and reaches Karl who in sympathy for Wilhelm and encouraged by the other boys, puts the sprig of holly on Schmallplatz' chair. The ambassador sits but nor for long! Then ensuing confusion and hilarious attempts of the boys to prevent Schmallplatz from reporting the incident comes to a climax when poor Wilhelm finally achieves order and Karl is punished by loosing his forth-coming Christmas holidays. Left alone in disgrace, the homesick boy sings his father's "Silent Night" and is overheard by the young choirmaster who is overjoyed to discover the "lost song". The scene ends in joyous excitement as they both prepare to return immediately to the Gruber home to secure the original copy of the song to send it to the King.

Scene Three: Following a short little interlude in the forest section as Karl and Wilhelm supposedly leave the stage coach, the scene shifts back to the right side of the stage and Gruber home again. Annalisa sings a gay waltz aria in the midst of happy preparations for Christmas and Karl's homecoming. As she leaves and Papa enters, Karl tiptoes in followed by Wilhelm. Papa is surprised to have him arrive two days early and is worried for fear that he has been sent home in disgrace. Mama is concerned that he might have been sent home with the measles! The young choirmaster is attracted to Annalisa who returns in her pretty new red dress. Karl is so excited that he gets the story about the song all mixed up and when Papa is finally enlightened by the choirmaster, he is certain that he can never find the original copy of the song because "Mama is always cleaning and throwing things away". Mama takes him and Karl to look in an old trunk for the song while Wilhelm and Annalisa express their growing interest in one another in a tender little duet. Papa cannot find the original copy of the song and is reluctant to write it down again as he cannot believe that the King could be interested in such a simple song and that "it will soon be forgotten anyway". This is too much for Karl who insists that the song will not be forgotten and that children all over the world "will sing it and love it as I do". The orchestra softly plays the familiar melody, and Karl's earnest little plea, "Listen Papa, I think I can almost hear the children singing it" is reinforced by Annalisa's singing with him triumphantly, Yes, we can hear them singing it now!" As the audience joins the cast in "Silent Night" Papa seems convinced and goes to the table, takes up quill pen and starts to write. In the meantime, lights have come up on the entire stage showing the choirboys, remainder of cast, and villagers with candles in the little center forest section. Everyone is singing except Gruber who continues to write. A cascade of stars seems to appear in the background, the cast builds the descant to the carol melody into a full climax and the curtain slowly falls.


PRESS COMMENTS

"The musical score demonstrated the enormous talent of its composer and the ability of the orchestrator. Her sense of proportion and flair for drama were admirable. The farewell scene in the first act was such an example. Her ingenuous couneerpoints in the "Silent Night" were most refreshing in their subtlery and diversity".

Long Beach Press Telegram, Dec. 17, 1962

"The story . . . is told with whimsy and charm and the music is as delightful as the tale . . . the opera offers fine entertainment."

The Schenectady Gazette, Dec. 11, 1964