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Classical 101

A Front Row Center Christmas


When I discovered that Christmas 2020 falls on a Friday I thought, either go all out for a Christmas special and save the opera for the following week, or take “celebration” seriously and go for opera, carols, anthems, song and nostalgia.

I’ve put together a Front Row Center program designed to keep you company on what may be a Christmas night spent far from loved ones in this difficult year. Light the tree, grab the eggnog, put your feet up, listen, and let the music do the rest.

Joan Sutherland’s was the greatest voice I ever heard live. On record, she is stunning. In person, she was Niagara Falls, OSU beats Michigan and the pyramids rolled into one. You could walk around that voice. In Norma, Lucia di Lammermoor or La traviata, Dame Joan was magnificent.

The lady had a great love for operetta and light music. Sometimes it’s as if a tank was trying to move a chess piece. But never mind. She’s Joan Sutherland and if she wants to sing Christmas carols, God love her. Wallow in the kitsch and enjoy the vocal glamour. Never mind her diction. You already know the words.


If Sutherland was my favorite soprano, Carlo Bergonzi was my favorite tenor. His Christmas album, recorded late in his career, has his own version of White Christmas. You won’t forget Bing Crosby. You will hear this beloved hit sung with love, in English-with a second verse in Italian. Sogno d'un natale bianco.

Luciano Pavarotti and Jessye Norman sing  Ave Maria, Panis angelicus  and What Child is This?  That’s the sublime part. Bryn Terfel sings Silent Night in Welsh-making that tune especially haunting, and a little sad.

My grandmother grew up in the Irish city of Athlone. She used to tell about going out to distract British soldiers, she and her sisters walking by these lonely boys, “My sisters Lizzie and Molly with Mary McCormack”. The latter was the sister of the great Irish tenor John McCormack.


Young John went on to a singing career that rivaled Caruso’s. Christmas night we’ll have a radio nostalgia segment, with Giovanni Martinelli, Ernestine Schumann-Heink, and John McCormack, maybe my grandmother’s boyfriend,  singing a perfect Adeste fidelis.

It used to be said that radio was invented so that Schumann-Heink could sing Stille Nacht to the world on Christmas Eve. We’ll hear her final broadcast, from 1934.

Act II of  La boheme is set on Christmas Eve. Carlo Bergonzi and Renata Tebaldi sing the love struck Rodolpho and Mimi, celebrating Christmas at the Café Momus. Still in a party mood? The courtesan Violetta gives quite the bash in Act I of Verdi’s La traviata. Anna Moffo falls for Richard Tucker, over a drinking song, and then wonders—is this the right guy?

Joan Sutherland sings Handel’s Let the Bright Seraphim. This performance defines the saying, “the angels sing”. The Hallelujah Chorus completes a special three hour Front Row Center Christmas. From Classical 101 to you. Glamor and nostalgia for Christmas night in a difficult year.

Light the tree. We’ll keep each other company, bliss out, and enjoy.

I like to call Front Row Center “Classical 101’s weekly celebration of opera and more.” And on Christmas night, it’s opera and lots more. Be listening from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Christopher Purdy is Classical 101's early morning host, 7-10 a.m. weekdays. He is host and producer of Front Row Center – Classical 101’s weekly celebration of Opera and more – as well as Music in Mid-Ohio, Concerts at Ohio State, and the Columbus Symphony broadcast series. He is the regular pre-concert speaker for Columbus Symphony performances in the Ohio Theater.