Two of the world's foremost opera singers believe one of the true joys of Christmas can be found in the season's songs — and they are delighted to be joining the Mormon Tabernacle Choir this weekend to explore the musical spirit of the holidays.

American mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade and Welsh baritone Bryn Terfel are in Salt Lake City to participate in the choir's annual Christmas concerts. Both said Friday that the performances are an amazing gift the choir gives to the community.

"I think this is what it's all about," von Stade said. "But you find less and less music at Christmas." Often, she said, instead of enjoying themselves people are too busy running to stores trying to find that last-minute gift.

Indeed, added Terfel, Christmas should be "a time of happiness and joy."

Von Stade and Terfel are "two of the world's leading superstars in the operatic world," Craig Jessop, the choir's music director, said as he introduced the two during a news conference in the Relief Society Building downtown. "We're grateful to have them here."

"It's always a special joy being able to join the Mormon Tabernacle Choir," von Stade said. "It goes beyond being an honor. It's extraordinary."

Terfel echoed von Stade's sentiments: "It's wonderful to be here and to sing with such fantastic musicians."

Jessop said the concerts will reflect the international character of the soloists.

"The program will have an international slant. There will be some traditional favorites, but there will also be a segment of Christmas music from around the world." Jessop and associate director Mack Wilberg will be conducting.

Von Stade and Terfel joined the choir and the Orchestra at Temple Square for a performance Friday night and will reprise that concert tonight at 7:30 in the LDS Conference Center. Free tickets have already been distributed, but there will be a standby line at the North Gate of Temple Square, beginning at 6:30 p.m.

They will also be the choir's guests during Sunday morning's "Music and the Spoken Word" television/radio broadcast. Again, there are no tickets available, but there will be a standby line forming at 7:30 a.m. at the North Gate for the 9:30 broadcast. After the broadcast, the orchestra, choir and soloists will perform a brief program of music taken from the evening concerts.

This is von Stade's third appearance with the choir. She was last here during the Winter Olympics in 2002. "I'm thrilled to be asked back," she said.

For Terfel, these performances with the choir are his first, and he said that at a dress rehearsal Thursday he was impressed with the choir's professionalism and talent.

"Yesterday, the choir was given music they hadn't sung before. They had to sight-read it, and it was wonderful hearing (them) perform," he said.

Referring to his nationality and the choir's strong Welsh tradition — which has included four conductors — Terfel said he has to "live up to a certain reputation here."

He said he didn't know what to expect when he was escorted into the Conference Center for the dress rehearsal. "I come from a small village in Wales, with 20 little houses. If you blink, you miss it. So I was very nervous when I came into the hall with 21,000 people in it."

Both agreed that music helps people get into the holiday spirit.

"This program has something for everyone, and I think it will bring excitement and joy to all," von Stade said.

"People will go outside after the concert and smile," Terfel added.