1982 – Birthday – ABOUT


Commissioned by W11 Opera in 1982 and revived in 1998, published by Eaton Music. Also performed by other opera companies; please see its entry on the Revivals page.

Synopsis: A story about gang warfare in Bethlehem in the year 0 with the nativity quietly going on in the background.

Composer George Fenton  
Librettist Timothy Kraemer
Music Director Nicholas Kraemer
Soloists Ben, Sarah, Simon, Matt, Josh, Joseph, Mary, Herod, Angel, 3 Kings
Groups Angels, Drummers, Soldiers, Spiffs, Sycophants, Shepherds, Sheep
Orchestra 2 Violins, Viola, Cello, Flute/ Dulcimer, Alto/ Sax/ Clarinet, 2 Trumpets, Trombone, Guitar, Bass Guitar, 2 Percussion

Notes on Production: West Side Story meets the Nativity in this hugely successful Christmas show. Birthday is on one level a Mystery play and on another a fable about gang warfare which may particularly appeal to younger teenagers.

The modern, upbeat score has interesting harmonies full of contrasts reflecting the storyline. It is scored for larger and smaller musical accompaniment.

Production notes: the rival gangs should be visually distinct. There is broad scope for individual characterisation within the groups. Original cast size 81.

Score available from composer.

Running time 70 minutes.


The Spiffs and Shepherds are old rivals. Ben Spiff confronts Simon a Shepherd and tells him to stop seeing his sister Sarah. The fight is prevented by an invasion of sheep and a chorus of Girl Sycophants comments on the character of boys. Sarah is working and the Spiffs are relaxing in the inn when a Man and a Woman (Joseph and Mary) arrive. Simon meanwhile is plotting to deliver Sarah’s birthday present without being caught by the Spiffs. While at the inn he witnesses the nativity which coincides with Sarah’s birthday. Simon and Sarah want to share their experience but Ben is reluctant to visit the stable. However he encounters Herod’s army and realises the baby is in real danger. He rescues them all, unaware of his contribution to history. Simon and Ben agree to resolve their differences at billiards, horrified by the malevolence of grown ups.