Using Dickens original text, abridged and dramatised by playwright David Simpatico, and interspersed with traditional Christmas carols, this semi-staged performance directed by Martin Duncan uses an actor in the speaking role of Dickens/Scrooge, eight principal singers from Opera Holland Park singing all other roles and three musicians.
The abridged version of this new work had its world premiere as part of the Opera Holland Park Christmas Concert at St Columba’s Church in Knightsbridge, also featuring traditional and sacred music, and readings by guest speakers Dame Norma Major, Kevin Whately, Maureen Lipman and Neil Pearson.
A Christmas Carol: A Musical Retelling
It was a ghost story unlike any other: a parable of redemption in the snowy streets of Victorian London. Published in December 1843, the first edition of Charles Dickens’s novel A Christmas Carol had sold out by Christmas Eve. Phrases such as ‘Bah humbug!’ and ’God bless us every one!’ became as much a part of the season as mince pies and mulled wine, while the name of Ebenezer Scrooge became a byword for miserliness. To this day, Dickens’s tale of Scrooge, the spectre of Jacob Marley and the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Yet to Come has the power to melt the coldest heart.
Will Todd and David Simpatico’s A Christmas Carol: A Musical Retelling puts Dickens’s language front and centre, framing each episode of the story with a traditional carol. The Victorians invented Christmas as we know it today, so the carols we will hear in tonight’s excerpts are those that they heard, albeit with new harmonies and rhythms and with the chime of handbells. Todd’s music opens in the same fashion as the traditional Service of Nine Lessons and Carols, with an unaccompanied voice. But whose voice is it?
Like most of us, Todd and Simpatico first encountered A Christmas Carol in childhood. Will wrote his first version, aged 10, with his father. David played the Turkey Boy as a young actor in Chicago. Tonight’s director, Martin Duncan, has acted in adaptations and written incidental music for productions of the story. All three were keen to re-emphasise the role of the four ghosts and to find a musical language for the supernatural.
Scrooge is played by our narrator, actor Kit Benjamin, while seven of Opera Holland Park’s regular principals take two roles each, juggling these with the handbells that feature throughout Todd’s score, sometimes warmly, sometimes spookily. The eighth singer in the ensemble, tenor Robert Murray, plays Bob Cratchit, Scrooge’s beleagured clerk and father to Tiny Tim, whose plight finally moves Scrooge to change his ways. The ending is a happy one, just as it should be, but along the way we see sadness, poverty, loss and loneliness. Courtesy of the ghosts, Scrooge learns to feel the warmth of friendship and family, to stop saying ‘Bah humbug’ and to wish all of us a Merry Christmas.