Philippe Boesmans has been composer in residence at Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie in Brussels, where he successfully showed Reigen in 1993, a literary opera after the play Reigen by Arthur Schnitzler, on a libretto by Luc Bondy. Now assisted by the writer Marie-Louise Bischofberger, Boesmans and Bondy created Wintermärchen after Shakespeare's play The Winter's Tale.
The opera is dedicated to Bernard, Annick Foccroulle, and Harry Halbreich. The premiere on 10 December 1999 at La Monnaie was staged by Bondy on a set by Erich Wonder, conducted by Antonio Pappano and choreographed by Lucinda Childs. It was a great success, selling out eleven times. The production was shown in November 2000 at the Festival d’Automne in Paris.
The opera was performed in 2001 in Braunschweig, in 2002 at the Neue Oper Wien and in Nürnberg, and in 2004 at the Liceu in Barcelona. A recording of the Brussels performance was recorded, and presented on 29 November 2000 on TV (Arte) and in 2015/2016 on internet TV (ARTE Concert).
The libretto stays close to Shakespeare's play, and is "skilfully abbreviated and adapted", according to one reviewer, but because "neither could bear to cut Shakespeare's original", they wrote the Sicilian scenes mostly in German, a language in which both librettist and composer were fluent. The scenes on the seacoast of Bohemia, in the third act, are mostly in English, accompanied by jazz-rock music. In the premiere and the first recording this was performed by the Belgian group Aka Moon. They invented the role of Green, who personifies Time and is a Shakespearean jester holding the scenes together.
The music at times alludes to Mozart, Richard Strauss, and Alban Berg. Claudio Monteverdi is quoted literally. Boesmans writes lyrical and singable parts, and finely detailed orchestration. He uses music described as expressionist to characterize Leontes who is insane with jealousy, causing pain and guilt. The music for Hermione, his wife, is full of passion and warmth. A reviewer summarizes that "the sometimes eclectic melodic and harmonic characteristics of his music accessible yet challenging".