Opera can be a little daunting. It’s a play told with singing, a set, and a plot but it isn’t a musical. It’s a different art form. Of all the performing arts, it’is the one that seems to fall under the “acquired taste” description. No one but opera singers go around singing arias while many of us can be caught singing our favorite show tunes from time to time. The musical passages just aren’t individually catchy and the the singing is not the style we are used to. It can be difficult due to the style of singing to understand the Libretto. As such, a person’s first experience with Opera can leave one lost. If this is you and or you haven’t yet exposed yourself to Opera but are curious, this is the show for you. If you enjoy Opera and would like to introduce the artform to a young person in your life, this is also the show for that. Amahl and the Night Visitors side steps the usual barriers to understanding and enjoying opera for the uninitiated. It’s understandable, under an hour in running time, and for this reviewer, quite moving.
Amahl and the Night Visitors was composed by Gian Carlo Menotti in 1951 for NBC, it was the first opera ever written for television in the US and premiered on Christmas Eve 1951. It tells of Amahl a 10-year old disabled boy who has to walk with the aid of a crutch. Amahl and his widowed mother are very poor and will soon have to resort to begging in order to survive. They are awoken in the middle of the night by a knock on the door. It is three kings who are following a star to find a newborn king and bring him gifts. Amahl and his mother give them shelter to rest on their travel. They send for the other villagers to bring what they can to feed the kings and to dance for them. After the other villagers have gone and the kings and their servant have gone to sleep the mother tries to steal some of their gold in order to feed her and Amahl. The servant catches her and threatens to beat her. Amahl fiercely attacks the servant to save his mother, in the commotion the Kings are awoken. Seeing the love Amahl has for his mother and knowing how poor they are, the Kings tell her to keep the gold, describing the new king they go to see. The mother repents and refuses the gold and regrets she has nothing to send the new king herself. Amahl offers his crutch, his most prized possession and with this gesture something miraculous occurs.
The Part of Amahl is played on alternate dates by twins Oskar Helle-Morrissey and Henry Helle-Morrissey, fifth graders. The production I saw featured Henry as Amahl, it’s an impressive to see a 10 or 11 year old singing Opera and performing with other talented performers. Everyone in the cast is exceptional, Vicki Fingalson as the Mother is a standout with a beautiful voice which is also easily understood. You are never at a loss for what she or any of the performers are singing. Wesley Frye, Maje Adams, and Rob Riordan play the three kings, each with a distinct personality and rich voices. When the villagers dance for the King’s it’s beautifully performed by Penelope Freeh and Sam Johnson. The dance interlude is the perfect length, it lasts long enough to impress but doesn’t last too long for the younger members of the audience.
The show is performed in the Andy Boss Thrust Stage at the Park Square Theatre. It’s an intimate setting with a very nice set designed by Ann Gumpper and effectively lit by James Eischen. It’s a one set production in a small space of high quality. It basically conveys the inside of Amahls home, with all that is needed by the story, the portion of a window on one side for the mother to call Amahl through, and a door opposite for the visitors to knock on and enter through. The back wall connecting the two partial sides contains their fireplace, and behind the set a large screen on which a starry sky can be suggested. The music is provided by two keyboards played by Jordan Buchholtz and Music Director Carson Rose Schneider. It is the perfect accompaniment for the performers and space.
If you are a fan of, or curious about opera, and looking for a Christmas themed show that tells a story set around the birth of Jesus, Amahl and the Night Visitors is a great choice. I found it accessible, beautifully performed, and ultimately emotionally moving. For more information and to purchase tickets go to https://www.skylarkopera.org/home