Rimsky-Korsakov’s magical folktale opera is rarely seen in the West. That’s entirely unfair, as it’s one of his most tuneful and enjoyable.

Based on Gogol’s short story, The Night before Christmas, it’s full of specifically Russian colour, which has likely counted against its translating easily for European audiences (the British premiere was only in 1988 at English National Opera). But if, as in this enjoyable 2021 staging for Opera Frankfurt by the always-thoughtful Christof Loy, it’s done intelligently, it comes across as warm and entertaining.

Christmas Eve Rimsky-Korsakov

Set in a village in central Ukraine, the basic story is pretty straightforward. Vakula, a hunky blacksmith, wants to marry Oksana, a rich farmer’s daughter, but first, she demands, he must bring her the Tsarina’s slippers. This he duly does. In the process, we meet a witch who gathers the stars and a devil who steals the moon. The witch, it turns out is Vakula’s mother, a woman desired by an assortment of village dignitaries (including Oksana’s gruff and grumpy father Chub)....