Missing Amahl

When I was growing up, my parents were involved over the years in several productions of the Christmas opera “Amahl and the Night Visitors” by Gian Carlo Menotti. I think I was probably a participant in the shepherds’ chorus once or twice, although not sure if that’s a false memory at this point. Many years ago now, the Seattle Opera Guild did productions. I don’t know if they still do.

It’s a lovely, short (45 minute, one act) opera, the first, and maybe only, opera written specifically for television. The original production appeared on NBC in the very early 1950’s.

The story is about a young boy (Amahl) and his mother, a widow, who live in poverty, somewhere in the Middle East, and takes place a night or two before the birth of Christ. The two are just settling down for bed in their very modest home when there’s a knock at the door. The Three Kings are there, asking for a place to spend the night as they follow the star. What happens that night causes a transformation in the lives of all.

I don’t think Amahl is performed as much as it once was, maybe because opera isn’t terribly popular, or because its message isn’t popular in our current cultural milieu. But for many years, it was a significant part of my Christmas experience and I miss that. Perhaps someday I’ll be able to sing in it as a grown-up shepherd (although it always brings tears to my eyes, which might make it harder to sing)…

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