• Thea Musgrave
  • A Christmas Carol (1979)

  • Novello & Co Ltd (World)

Commissioned by the Virginia Opera Association with support from a National Endowment for the Arts Composer/Librettist Fellowship

  • 1+pic.1+ca.2+bcl.1+dbsn/1000/2perc/hp.pf/str[min1.]
  • Children's Chorus
  • 2 Sopranos, Mezzo Soprano, Tenor, 2 Baritones, Bass Baritone, Actor, 3 Children
  • 1 hr 50 min
  • the composer, based on the story by Charles Dickens. German trans. Claus Henneberg
  • English

Programme Note


The classic Dickens story of the conversion of Scrooge from ogre and miser (through visits by Marley’s Ghost and the Spirits of Christmas) to his re-birth as benefactor of the Cratchit family.


It is a cold, foggy Christmas Eve. Scrooge, the miser, berates his clerk, Bob Cratchit, for arriving at work late. Scrooge’s nephew, Fred, enters and wishes his uncle a Merry Christmas. Scrooge loudly derides the whole idea of Christmas and refuses Fred’s invitation to dine with him the next day. A portly gentleman comes to solicit a donation for the poor, is met with a brusque retort, and hurriedly withdraws. Scrooge grudgingly allows Bob the next day off for Christmas.

Later that night the ghost of Scrooge's deceased partner, Jacob Marley, confronts him. Marley laments that he is forever doomed because of his narrow and selfish life. He warns of a worse fate awaiting Scrooge, though he has been granted one last chance. At one o'clock the Spirit of Christmas will appear in three guises - the Past, the Present, and the Future. Scrooge must listen and learn. Marley disappears and Scrooge dismisses the encounter as a mere dream. He goes to bed.

The clock strikes the hour and the Spirit of Christmas Past appears. It shows Scrooge a classroom where a young boy, whom Scrooge recognizes as himself, sits alone. A young girl, Fan, comes to tell him he may return home so they can spend a wonderful Christmas together. Scrooge remembers his sister Fan with pleasure and wishes she were still alive.

The scene changes to an office presided over by the jolly Mr Fezziwig. He, his family, friends and two apprentices (one of whom is a young Scrooge, then known as Ben) prepare for a Christmas party. As musicians play, Ben dances with the young and beautiful Belle Fezziwig. They are obviously in love. After a song by Belle, the Fezziwigs lead the final dance. The lights then fade and the cheerful voices disappear.

A year has passed and Belle remarks sadly to Ben that he clearly no longer loves her and is interested only in making money. Ben protests but she replies that she "waits in vain for a sign of affection, for a kiss or a smile of tenderness" and that "he has grown cold." He brusquely cuts her off saying she knows nothing of the world and the terrible poverty facing most people. She must be patient, and they must wait before they marry. Finally, in a desperate attempt to evoke a response, Belle accuses him of being a miser, incapable of love. The old Scrooge passionately exhorts Ben to go after her, but Ben is too proud to retract his angry words. He steels himself to face a lonely future - he has become Scrooge. The old Scrooge angrily accuses his younger self of making his present life a misery.

The jovial spirit of the Present wakes Scrooge and leads him to the Cratchit house. There, the family, including Tiny Tim, assembles for Christmas dinner. Despite their poverty there is an atmosphere of warmth and merriment. Scrooge asks about Tiny Tim's future. The Spirit turns on Scrooge and points to him accusingly. Scrooge is taken aback - "Here I stand accused, but why? How can I be blamed for the evil in the world?"

Suddenly; the menacing figure of the Spirit of the Future appears out of the gloom with several starving children, amongst them the Cratchits. Scrooge is frightened by their desperation as they cling to him. He violently pushes them down. Tiny Tim is crushed and falls dead. Scrooge is horrified. Bob and his wife are overwhelmed with grief at their loss as they draw close together to mourn Tiny Tim. "Together we shall find comfort." In the street outside, lights reveal several grotesque figures that join a passing funeral procession. Scrooge finds himself in a deserted graveyard facing his own tombstone and, in a shaking voice, reads the inscription: "Ebenezer Scrooge, miser; who lived unloved and alone." Scrooge, more and more terrified, declares that all of these happenings are merely a dream. He insists the future is not predestined, that he can change. He swears he is no longer the man he was and will henceforth honour the Spirit of Christmas throughout the year. He thus successfully confronts the grim and powerful Spirit of the Future. Dawn comes and Scrooge awakens euphorically, as he realizes he is still alive and can live his final years sharing his joy with others.

In the final scene, Scrooges nephew and his wife Rosie give a party to celebrate Christmas. A knock is heard at the door and, to everyone’s astonishment, Scrooge enters and joins the festivities. The Spirit of Christmas Present appears and his unseen presence brings joy and goodwill to all.