Since its Christmas Eve premiere on national TV in 1951, Amahl and the Night Visitors — which runs at Nashville Opera’s Noah Liff Opera Center Dec. 13-15 — has charmed children and adults alike.
When NBC approached legendary composer Gian Carlo Menotti to write the first ever opera for television opera, he was hesitant.
Fortunately, a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art helped change his mind when he saw Hieronymus Bosch’s painting The Adoration of the Magi, which depicts the Three Kings. This was the inspiration Menotti needed to create one-act Christmas opera we all know today, Amahl and the Night Visitors.
The story follows three traveling kings who stop for the night at the humble home of a shepherd boy and his mother. As the precocious Amahl entertains the peculiar guests, he learns that true generosity of heart can be a miracle in itself.
Menotti was so enthusiastic about completing this opera that he worked with great speed and began conducting rehearsals before the work was finished.
“Any subject is good for opera if the composer feels it so intently, he must sing it out!” – Gian Carlo Menotti
Knowing that he needed to please a broad audience (and one likely new to opera), he composed the voice parts to be pleasing to the average ear, as well as including comedic relief in the characters of the Three Kings.
On Christmas Eve 1951, over five million viewers tuned in to the first-ever televised opera for a reason. Full of humor, wonder and enchanting melody, Amahl and the Night Visitors is a Christmas classic for the whole family.
With direction by John Hoomes and music direction by Amy Tate Williams, this holiday classic by Nashville Opera will be sung in English with projected English titles.
Alan Harrisohn Foeder makes his Nashville Opera debut in the title role. Alan has already built an impressive list of stage credits in his developing career. Recent roles include Michael Darling in the Lythgoe Family Panto’s Peter Pan and Tinker Bell: A Pirate’s Christmas at TPAC and Charlie in AT Pro’s Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
Soprano Kaylee Nichols Mezzo last delighted Nashville Opera audiences as Flora in La Traviata in 2018. Recent roles include Maddalena in Rigoletto with Opera Project Columbus and Mercedes in Carmen with the Chattanooga Symphony & Opera. She returns to Nashville as a 2020 Mary Ragland Emerging Artist, performing the role of the Mother in Amahl and the Night Visitors and Angie in Pepito.
Other performers include Michael Anderson, Spencer Reichman, Charles Edward Charlton and Luke Harnish.
Amahl and the Night Visitors will be paired with Pepito, a new work by the up-and-coming Nicolas Lell Benavides. Pepito tells the story of a young married couple whose hearts are opened by a forgotten shelter dog. It was commissioned by the Washington National Opera and first produced at the Kennedy Center last season.
The Nashville Opera performance of this mini-opera features Nashville soprano Claire Paschal and 2020 Mary Ragland Emerging Artists Kaylee Nichols Mezzo (soprano), Michael Anderson (tenor) and Spencer Reichman (baritone).
Single tickets range from $26-$85. For more information, call the TPAC Box Office at 615-782-4040 or visit TPAC.org.
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Gian Carlo Menotti is often considered an American composer though he was born in Cadigliano, Italy. At a young age, he began to compose songs under the guidance and support of his mother. He was 11 when he wrote his first opera, The Death of Pierrot. In 1923, Menotti began his formal music education at The Verdi Conservatory in Milan. After the death of his father in 1928, Menotti and his mother moved to America where they lived in Philadelphia. With the advice of Arturo Toscanini, Menotti enrolled at The Curtis Institute of Music where he studied under Rosario Scalero. During his studies at Curtis, Menotti met fellow composer Samuel Barber, who would later become one of Menotti’s closest friends and collaborators.
His first produced opera, Amelia Goes to the Ball, was initially staged at Curtis, then later at the Metropolitan Opera. This brought attention to Menotti’s work and writing skills, especially to Samuel Chotzinoff, general music director of the National Broadcasting Company. Chotzinoff commissioned Menotti to write an opera for the radio. In 1939, The Old Maid and the Thief was broadcast on the radio and later produced for stage in 1941.
After these early successes, Menotti continued to write for the stage. However, his most influential and prominent opera premiered on Christmas Eve 1951 and televised live by NBC. Amahl and the Night Visitors was the first opera to be performed live on television and has now become a classic opera and a staple during the holiday season.
Over the course of his career, Menotti collaborated with a multitude of other composers and librettists creating works that are frequently performed today. Menotti was known for writing both the lyrics and the music for his operas, acting both as composer and librettist. Over the course of his life, Menotti wrote 22 operas and a variety of chamber music. In 1984, Gian Carlo Menotti was awarded a Kennedy Center Honor for his impact in the world of opera. He passed away in Monte Carlo, Monaco, on February 1, 2007, at the age of 97 and is buried in East Lothian, Scotland.
The opera begins with Amahl playing his pipe outside as his mother calls for him to come home. We find that Amahl is a disabled boy who can walk only with a crutch. He is known for telling tall tales which frequently frustrate his mother. Amahl tries to tell his mother about what he has just seen in the night sky—a large star with a long tail. His mother, however, is fed up with Amahl’s vivid imagination and scolds the boy. Later that night, Amahl’s mother weeps, praying that Amahl not become a beggar. After bedtime, there is a knock at the door and Amahl finds three kings standing at their threshold. He tries to tell his mother the news, but she refuses to believe him until she sees the visitors for herself. The Three Kings enter and tell Amahl and his mother they have been following the night sky and traveling under a great star in search of a wondrous Child. They are on their way to find a newborn king and ask to stop and take rest.
While Amahl’s mother gathers wood for a fire, Amahl begins to ask the kings many questions. One king, Kaspar, shows Amahl the box he carries which is full of magic stones, beads, and candy. Amahl explains that he was once a shepherd, but his mother had to sell his sheep for money and food. Amahl’s mother soon returns and asks the boy to gather their neighbors hoping that with their help, the kings may be fed and entertained properly. The neighbors oblige, bringing, gifts, special food, and present a dance.
After the crowd has left and the kings are asleep, Amahl’s mother is tempted to steal for her son some for the kings’ gold that was meant for the Christ Child. The Page catches her and threatens to beat her. Amahl wakes to find the Page grabbing at his mother and he tries desperately to defend her. To great surprise, the Three Kings show kindness and compassion and offer to let her keep the gold as the Holy Child will not need earthly power or wealth to build his kingdom. The mother says she has waited all her life for such a king and asks the Three Kings to take back the gold. She wishes to send a gift but has nothing to give. Amahl offers his most prized possession—his crutch—as a gift for the kings to bring the infant. As he moves forward with the crutch, he realizes that his leg has miraculously healed. With great joy, Amahl joins the kings in their quest under the brilliant star of Bethlehem in search of the newborn king.