Music: In the bleak midwinter: Stephen Johnson spent Christmas chilling out in front of the television

In terms of broadcast classical music, Christmas is not a time of innovation and challenge. Channel 4 may have managed to offend the deserving with its Camp Christmas, but its musical offering remained solidly traditional.

For Christmas Day evening there was New York Metropolitan Opera's all-star, made-for- television version of Puccini's La Fanciulla del West, leading name Placido Domingo, and before that, the truly horrendous Christmas with Luciano Pavarotti. Filmed, as far as I could tell, through a heavy brown filter, this mish-mash of souped-up carols and weepy yuletide classics did not bring out the best in the great man. He looked uncomfortable, frequently glancing down at his music as though in need of moral support, and the performances seemed to bear this out - not a great deal of warmth, and the odd hint of strain.

The direction was startlingly unimaginative - Notre Dame, Montreal, doesn't look like a terrifically exciting building, but the camera could at least have tried to make something of it. Still worse was the recording: microphone positioning apparently based on the 'distance lends enchantment' principle. It didn't. Even the most easily pleased Pavarotti fans must have felt a tad disappointed.

Technical standards in the great BBC Radio offering - the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols (broadcast this year on Radios 3, 4 and 5) - were better in every respect. The recording approach was again respectfully distant, but the choir itself and the King's College Chapel atmosphere were well-caught. This year the programme was wide-ranging: Sarum chant and Palestrina to Diana Burrell and Judith Weir, with enough of the familiar favourites in between. And the King's College Choir itself remains a Rolls-Royce among modern choral groups. But I wonder how many people actually sat and listened to it, as opposed to using it as background to turkey-eating, present-opening and the ritual drive to the relatives?

Those few who did may have felt, as I did, that even in an overheated living room it is a distinctly chilly experience. The froideur of the lesson-readers is, of course, traditional and entirely expected. But the singing was rarely more than coldly beautiful. Whether it was medieval high church or Polish folk, the austere eloquence of a Bach chorale or the intimate tenderness of Herbert Howells' A Spotless Rose the style was the same: clean, shapely and expressively uptight. Our Anglican choral tradition is a treasure that needs to be defended against the rising horrors of evangelical happy-clappydom, but it could lose a degree or two of frost.

Refreshment came elsewhere - two BBC 2 offerings in fact. The unlikely teaming of the Spitting Image team, Theatre de Complicite and Claudio Abbado produced a very likeable version of Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf (26 December), the story told by the voice of Sting and his rubber alter ego. It was perhaps a little over-stuffed with ideas, but the scenery and the puppets were wonderful - especially the be- robed ballerina-superstar Cat and the stunningly malevolent Wolf. The other items - scenarios based around Prokofiev's Overture on Hebrew Themes and Classical Symphony - felt a little like filling after this, though again there were vivid ideas, and enough matching of sounds to instruments to keep educationally inclined parents happy.

The 10-minute opera Cinderella or the Vindication of Sloth (also 26 December), by the late Stephen Oliver, was delightfully filmed and wittily composed, and there was a neat sting in the tail: it is Cinderella's sloth which saves her from conflagration at the ball, and which, as she points out, prevents her from falling for other, worse temptations - a possible vindication of the modern Christmas?

Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv'The Last Kingdom' embraces politics, religion, warfare, courage, love and loyalty, say creators
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m

film
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips

music
News
peopleThe Game of Thrones author said speculation about his health and death was 'offensive'
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be shot in the same studios as the Harry Potter films

books
Arts and Entertainment
Duncan Bannatyne left school at 15 and was still penniless at 29

Bannatyne leaves Dragon's Den

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The French economist Thomas Piketty wrote that global inequality has worsened

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant and Benedict Cumberbatch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck plays a despondent Nick Dunne in David Fincher's 'Gone Girl'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty (L) and Carl Barât look at the scene as people begin to be crushed

music
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Caral Barat of The Libertines performs on stage at British Summer Time Festival at Hyde Park

music
Arts and Entertainment
Ariana Grande and Iggy Azalea perform on stage at the Billboard Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Zina Saro-Wiwa

art
Arts and Entertainment
All-new couples 'Come Dine With Me'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Black Sabbath's Ozzy Osbourne
musicReview: BST Hyde Park, London
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Gamble and Amy Hoggart star in Almost Royal burning bright productions
tvTV comedy following British ‘aristos’ is accused of mocking the trusting nature of Americans
Arts and Entertainment
Sassoon threw his Military Cross into the Mersey
booksAn early draft of ‘Atrocities’ shows the anti-war sentiment was toned down before publication
Arts and Entertainment
Actors and technicians on the march against changes made by Hollande
theatreOpening performances of the Avignon theatre festival cancelled as actors and technicians walk out
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West performed in a chain mail mask at Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park
Rapper booed at Wireless over bizarre rant
Arts and Entertainment

They're back, they're big – and they're still spectacularly boring

film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice
    Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

    Hollywood targets Asian audiences

    The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial
    Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app - and my mum keeps trying to hook me up!'

    Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app'

    Five years on from its launch and Grindr is the world's most popular dating app for gay men. Its founder Joel Simkhai answers his critics, describes his isolation as a child
    Autocorrect has its uses but it can go rogue with embarrassing results - so is it time to ditch it?

    Is it time to ditch autocorrect?

    Matthew J X Malady persuaded friends to message manually instead, but failed to factor in fat fingers and drunk texting
    10 best girls' summer dresses

    Frock chick: 10 best girls' summer dresses

    Get them ready for the holidays with these cool and pretty options 
    Westminster’s dark secret: Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together

    Westminster’s dark secret

    Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Dulce et decorum est - a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Dulce et decorum est: a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality
    Google tells popular music website to censor album cover art in 'sexually explicit content' ban

    Naked censorship?

    The strange case of Google, the music website and the nudity take-down requests
    Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

    Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

    As England take on India at Trent Bridge, here is our pick of the high-performing bats to help you up your run-count this summer 
    Brazil vs Germany World Cup 2014 comment: David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

    David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

    Captain appears to give up as shocking 7-1 World Cup semi-final defeat threatens ramifications in Brazil