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A Christmas Carol

ballet music for orchestra

Year:  2001   ·  Duration:  1h 40m
Instrumentation:  2222; 2222; timp., perc. (2); kb; str

Year:  2001
Duration:  1h 40m
Instrumentation  2222; 2222; timp., perc. (2...

Composer:   Philip Norman


Our version of A Christmas Carol began as a glint in Russell Kerr’s eye. I remember a phone call from Russell in late 1988: “Philip - I think I’ve got an idea for a ballet that might work...”.

Two years later, A Christmas Carol opened in the Theatre Royal, Christchurch in a polished production by Southern Ballet, with Russell himself in the demanding dual roles of Scrooge and choreographer.

The success of the Southern Ballet’s presentation led to an unexpected invitation from Angela Gorton, then General Manager of Canterbury Opera.

“Would it be possible to convert the ballet into an opera?” Angela asked. “You’ve got to be joking” I remember thinking. “Yes, of course, no problems” I replied.

The temporary bout of insanity continued. I chose to write the libretto, as well as taking on the challenge of converting what was an electronic tape score into a 500-page manuscript for live orchestra and singers.

Thankfully, as it transpired, much of the original electronic score translated fairly readily into the different medium. At most, keys and speeds were altered, and occasional phrases tweaked to suit the range and breath requirements of the human performers. This left under half the ballet requiring either substantial revision or fresh material.

1993 disappeared in a blur of notes, rhyming couplets and spectral apparitions. One memory remains clear, and that is the thrill of seeing my labours brought to life in a gratifying premiere season of the opera by Canterbury Opera.

Someone once said ‘being a composer in New Zealand must be like being a bullfighter in Finland”. Certainly conventional wisdom has it that while a first performance of a new work is relatively easy to secure, opportunities for subsequent performances are as rare as a happy Wagnerian heroine.

Thus it was with relish and gratitude that I leapt upon the Royal New Zealand Ballet’s invitation to turn my opera score back into a ballet. This time, it was to be for humans to play, and a full orchestra no less. Oh joy oh bliss.

And it has given me the opportunity to use the wonderful line - I spent most of 2001 decomposing.

I feel enormously privileged to have the opportunity to work once again with Russell, Kristian, the Royal New Zealand Ballet and, of course, Charles Dickens.

Philip Norman
“A Christmas Carol”

Commissioned note

Commissioned by the Royal New Zealand Ballet , choreography by Russell Kerr, designs by Kristian Fredrikson

Text note

Based on story by Charles Dickens

Performance history

Performed by Royal New Zealand Ballet and the Wellington Sinfonia, with conductor Kenneth Young at the St James Theatre, in Wellington