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”The tender, heartwarming story of Amahl and the Night Visitors, is one of the most popular of American operas. Only an hour in length the one act opera with its beautiful score and touching libretto (the opera is sung in English) is appealing to all ages and musical backgrounds. It was written specifically for young imaginations which can easily relate to a child with a head full of dreams. It remains an inspiring story of how faith, charity, unselfish love and good deeds can work miracles.”
Tom Pedas (Music Director of The Celebration Singers and The Celebration Singers Children's Chorus)

Amahl and the Night Visitors is a 1951 opera by Italian American composer Gian Carlo Menotti. Shortly called Amahl, Menotti’s Christmas Story was the first opera especially made for television and is still a classic. Amahl and the Night Visitors is also very popular in theatre. It was first staged in New York on NBC Television. What also makes it special is that it is suited for adults and children. It was replayed on NBC every year at Christmas until the original video recording was lost.

The plot
Life is getting tougher and tougher for Amahl (soprano), a cripple shepherd, and his mother (soprano as well). They are that poor that they will have to beg for money on the streets. On a clear winter night the Three Kings visit their home. They are called Kaspar (tenor), Melchior (baritone) and Balthazar (bass) and they are on their way to that little baby called Jesus Christ, but now have to rest with all their gifts and cold feet. The mother hurries to get wood for the fire and to call the neighboring herders, who come to the house with small gifts and dance exhibits. When the kings are asleep, the mother is tempted by evil and she steals some of Melchior’s gold. She is caught and Amahl tries to defend her. But Melchior tells them to keep the gold, because Christ will not need it: his kingdom is based on love and it will be there for the poor. The mother is touched and returns the gold. She even offers to provide her own gift, after which Amahl is so kind to give the Kings his crutch. And then, a miracle! Amahl finds out he can walk after his wonderful act of altruism. This makes everyone happy because Amahl is clearly touched by the love of God. Playing his flute he accompanies the Three Kings to deliver Christ his gift in person.

The opera
This first opera for television is so popular because it is a sensitive story that reaches for the heart and disables rationality. The moments of innocence are striking, such as the passage of the orchestra in the introduction to the one and only act, the comical, Prokofiev-like procession of the Three Kings, the not-so-kind words between Amahl, Melchior and Kaspar, the moment at which Amahl sings “I walk, mother!” in a lowering minor, and the recurring flute play by Amahl at the end. Without the childish but integrating musical style, Amahl would not have been such a telling character. The irritation of his mother is as extended as emotions in a Giacomo Puccini opera. Critics pass judgment on the shallow scene with the shepherds, which is not ordinary enough, and on the reactions to the miracle, which could use some true amazement and astonishment. The opera’s success lies then again rather in the combination of fantasy and comfy daily life.

I can hardly believe it, but our beloved Byzantine starred in Menotti’s Amahl and the Night Visitors once! Our star says: “I sang Amahl once. And let me tell you, that is the most sickeningly cloying opera ever to make it onstage. It's been ten years or so; I've mostly forgotten everything except 'Mother! There are three kings outside! And one of them is black!'” Notwithstanding his critical remarks we have quite a talent here, since Amahl seems to be a difficult role to play: Amahl is a very difficult role to cast: Amahl is a boy soprano and, outside of a professional arena, it's difficult to find a young man who is old enough to understand his tasks as a performer and young enough not to be plagued by a changing pubescent voice.”

Sources:
http://www.nauticom.net/www/planet/files/singersAmahl1.htm
http://www.hapka.com/usopera/composers/menotti/amahl/
http://www.jsballet.org/html/Notes/Amahl.html
Spectrum's Opera (ISBN 90-274-6581-9)

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