If you want pictures with your Christmas music, there are plenty of videotapes and discs available.
One of the most beautiful Yuletide music videos is Carols for Christmas, a video filled with appropriately inspirational paintings from the Metropolitan Museum of Art and an audio track filled with the Royal College of Music Chamber Choir singing traditional carols conducted by Sir David Willocks.
The video’s dramatic backdrop is St. Edmundsbury Cathedral. The program is available on videotape (HBO, 60 minutes), but it is vastly superior on a Pioneer Artists laser video disc. If you have a laser video machine, just play this disc continuously.
Equally as stirring, but not as visually interesting is The New Born King, a program of traditional carols from Westminster Cathedral (Video Arts International tape). The singing is gorgeous- with baritone Benjamin Luxon, Aled Jones (a boy soprano) and the Westminster Cathedral. The late actor Emlyn Williams reads excerpts from Charles Dickens and Thomas Hardy.
The Christmas Carol Video (Creative Programming tape) features the Choir of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York singing 14 carols, including “Silent Night.” The well-photographed video includes a Christmas montage of the choir, stained-glass windows and New England snow scenes including kids building snowmen and families decorating trees.
A Classical Christmas (Kultur tape) is a painless tour of familiar Christmas scenes (ice skaters, Christmas lights, the holiday art work of Currier and Ives, Santa Claus and the like) accompanied by familiar Christmas music in routine performances.
The Mormon Tabernacle Choir: Christmas Classics (Vestron tape) is the Utah singers’ first live music video album. “Joy to the World” is included.
Christmas songs sung by great classical singers have been best-sellers for years on records. Now, several have made the transition to video. Kiri te Kanawa at Christmas (V.I.E.W. tape) features the popular soprano with the Tallis Chamber Choir. Mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade offers Christmas With Flicka (V.I.E.W. tape) with Julius Rudel conducting.
Christmas With Luciano Pavarotti (Video Treasures) is a disappointing tape because the video quality is so awful. But Pavarotti is Pavarotti and even in blurry pictures and terrible monaural sound, the tenor soars on such classics as “Ave Maria,” “Silent Night” and “O Holy Night.”
No one would dare sing along with these videos, so if you want a Christmas sing-along, pick up a copy of Holiday Sing-Along With Mitch Miller and the Sing-Along Gang (MGM/UA tape). It offers everything from “Jingle Bells” to “White Christmas” in versions that will make any shower baritone or soprano feel right at home.
In 1951, Gian Carlo Menotti and NBC-TV gave the nation a very special Christmas gift, the premiere of Amahl and the Night Visitors. A 1979 “Hallmark Hall of Fame” television special of the one-act opera is available (Video Artists International tape). The singers, happily, are also actors. Soprano Teresa Stratas (a diva in the Maria Callas mold) as the mother, and Robert Sapolsky (a boy soprano) as a serious Amahl, are quite moving in this sweetly sung and nicely acted production. The Philharmonic Orchestra is conducted by Jesus Lopez-Cobos with Metropolitan Opera singers Giorgio Tozzi, Nico Castel and Willard White.
No Christmas would be complete without Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker” ballet. There are quite a few from which to choose. The Nutcracker to get is Mikhail Baryshnikov’s sparkling version with the American Ballet Theatre, featuring Baryshnikov and Gelsey Kirkland (MGM/UA tape or Pioneer Artists’ laser video disc with digital sound). In Baryshnikov’s version, the ballet becomes a child’s dream with a handsome prince, a wicked Mouse King, a princess, dancing snowflakes, flowers and the Nutcracker.
Also available: an authentic Bolshoi Ballet version filmed in 1978 at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow with Yekaterina Maximova and Vladimir Vasilev (Kultur tape); a Royal Ballet version starring Lesley Collier and Anthony Dowell with Gennady Rozhdestvensky conducting (HBO and Home Vision tapes and Pioneer Artists laser video disc), and “The Nutcracker: The Movie” (Paramount tape), a production designed by Maurice Sendak, the illustrator of enchanting children’s books. The imaginative costumes and scenery far outshine the rather pedestrian production.
For non-purists, there is “The Nutcracker: A Fantasy on Ice,” which stars skaters Dorothy Hamill and Rolen Cousins with a narration by the late actor Lorne Greene (Vestron tape).
If you would rather have a country-Western Christmas, there’s a video version of Dolly Parton’s annual TV special A Smoky Mountain Christmas (Playhouse tape). It’s all about Dolly, a Tennessee cabin and seven orphans (no, they are not named Grumpy, Sneezy, Doc and Dopey). Parton is in good voice and spirits.
If one of your warmest memories is sitting by the fireplace watching your Christmas stockings and listening to carols, and you live in a place where there are no fireplaces, or you’re too lazy to buy some wood and start a fire, why not turn your TV set into a warm, cozy fireplace?
Your Christmas Yule Log Fireplace is a 59-minute video that does the trick (Video Naturals). You can enjoy a roaring Yuletide fire without ever leaving your chair. As “The 12 Days of Christmas” fills the room, a poker jabs the logs in the hearth. During “O Come All Ye Faithful,” someone tosses more wood on the fire. You don’t move a muscle. During “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies,” the logs snap, crackle and pop.
It may just be that “Your Christmas Yule Log Fireplace” is the perfect video and audio Muzak for the holiday season.