By David Seaman | Echo
Top-notch talent packs into Taylor Opera's newest production "Amahl and the Night Visitors." Within about an hour, laughs, heartwarming moments, beautiful melodies and vibrant instrumentals accompany viewers as they embrace a unique untold story involving Jesus' birth.
The first opera specifically composed for television, "Amahl and the Night Visitors" was written by famed Italian-American composer Gian Carlo Menotti. The NBC Opera Theatre broadcasted it live from New York City's Rockefeller Center on Dec. 24, 1951. An estimated five million people tuned in-the largest audience ever to watch a televised opera at the time.
"Menotti . . . has been quoted as saying he found it inconsequential that he wrote the show for the TV studio rather than the stage," said stage director Conor Angell. "I would agree that it works excellently as a staged production, particularly because the unit set allows for seamless continuity of action, rather than causing the audience to wait during set shifts."
The smooth action on stage compliments the flow of the story. It tells a clear and simple tale of young shepherd boy Amahl and his widowed mother on a night shortly after the first Christmas. Amahl is crippled and his mother poor, both on the verge of becoming beggars.
The same night they spot a mysterious new star in the sky, Amahl and his mother are visited by the three wise men on their way to bring gifts to a newborn king. The three men stay with them. Amidst celebration and dance, greed brews in the small shepherd home.
Set against a velvety purple background, complete with shining star and convincing set, "Amahl" looks great. It sounds great, too. The impressive melodies and harmonies of the singers compliment the lush and exciting instrumentation from members of the Taylor Symphony Orchestra.
Cody Lile, all of 13 years old, pulls off a touching performance as Amahl, and senior Haley Kurr invites us to sympathize with the widowed mother. Along with members of Taylor Sounds and Theatre as other shepherds, the cast as a whole has a lot of fun.
The three kings are a blast to watch. Each actor gives his king a unique personality: sophomore Sean Sele uses amusing mannerisms as the wry Balthazar, junior Josh Duch hams it up as the crazy Kaspar and junior Evan Koons provides the booming voice of reason as their leader Melchior.
Themes of forgiveness and grace abound. The mother wants to be a generous host, but she is also envious of the wealth of her guests. "Do rich people know what they do with their gold?" she sings bitterly. Why should these wealthy men give extravagant presents to a child they do not know? It's a reasonable question, and Amahl and his mother eventually learn why this child deserves the kings' presents, along with so much more.
In contrast, the three wise men learn how humble Jesus actually is in the process. This newborn savior, one they think of as high royalty and describe as "the color of wheat, the color of dawn," will be a king of the meek, not of the strong. How all these characters realize this without actually meeting Christ is fascinating to watch.
Tough work has been put into "Amahl," work that has made Angell very proud of the production as a whole. "I have found that the cast and crew for this show have had the most serious outlook of any student team I have directed, regarding the need to execute everything well," Angell said. They certainly pull it off with this production.
With strong orchestration and singing directed by music director Patricia Robertson, colorful characters and a talented cast "Amahl and the Night Visitors" sets a new bar for Taylor Opera and shines a bright light.
"Amahl and the Night Visitors" runs Friday and Saturday, Feb. 6 and 7, at 8 p.m. Tickets are available for $10 at the door or the Department of Music office.