Gian Carlo Menotti’s tuneful one-act opera brings the meaning of the holiday season home for all. Through their encounters with the Three Kings and a magic star, shepherd boy Amahl and his mother learn how unselfish love and good deeds can work miracles.
Thursday, December 4 at 7:30 pm
Friday, December 5 at 7:30 pm
Saturday, December 6 at 2:00 pm & 7:30 pm
St. Luke’s United Methodist Church, 8817 S. Broadway, Highlands Ranch, CO 80129 [venue website]
$25; $15 for students (Subscribers receive 20% discount). Tickets will be available September 29.
Synopsis - Spoiler Alert!
Setting: the Middle East at the birth of Christ
The crippled shepherd boy Amahl lives with his widowed mother. One winter evening, though the boy swears he sees a remarkable star in the sky, his mother does not believe him and he is sent to bed. Then they hear the sound of approaching travelers and a knock at the door. Amahl reports to his mother that there are three magnificently dressed men on the doorstop. This, too, she does not believe until she sees it for herself.
The travelers are admitted to the hut. They declare that they are Kings in search of the newborn Christ Child, and share news of the gifts they are bringing to Him. Amahl’s mother, who had left to share news with the neighbors, returns with shepherds who add their own gifts to those of the Three Kings.
That night, while the Kings are sleeping, Amahl’s mother is tempted to take some of the gold they are carrying so as to better provide for her son. She is caught but promptly forgiven, as the Kings declare that the Christ Child has less need of gold than Amahl. Amahl offers his own crutch – his only possession – as a gift for the Christ Child, and in return for his selfless generosity, he finds that suddenly he can walk unaided. Wanting to honor the Christ Child himself, Amahl departs with the Three Kings.
Synopsis by Betsy Schwarm
About the Composer
Born in Italy, Gian Carlo Menotti (1911 – 2007) began to compose under his mother’s guidance at the age of seven and was soon studying composition seriously. In 1928 following the death of her husband, his mother took the youth to the United States, where he completed his musical training in Philadelphia. After graduating with honors in 1933, Menotti completed his first mature composition, the one-act opera buffa Amelia Goes to the Ball, which premiered in Philadelphia April 1, 1937. By his death in 2007, he had composed over twenty operas, both for professional performers and for children, in each case crafting both the music and the librettos.
Of those many operas, the best-known, and amongst the most frequently performed of all operas by any composer, is Amahl and the Night Visitors. The work was written on a commission from NBC, which wanted a television opera in time for Christmas, but left the choice of story up to Menotti. Such freedom can be liberating, but the composer soon found himself with time running out and no plan in mind. He later described the situation in this way: “One November afternoon as I was walking rather gloomily through the rooms of the Metropolitan Museum. I chanced to stop in front of the “Adoration of the Kings” by Hieronymus Bosch, and as I was looking at it, suddenly I heard again, coming from the distant blue hills, the weird song of the Three Kings. I then realized that they had come back to me and had brought me a gift.” The opera aired Christmas Eve of 1951, and was presented on stage at the New York City Opera the following April.
It is worth adding that, in Menotti’s Italian boyhood, the Three Kings filled the role filled for many American children by Santa Claus, bringing gifts to children at the Christmas season. Moreover, the composer recalled a childhood impression that one of the kings was deaf, so this detail becomes a small plot element in the opera. Menotti also makes a point of evoking the pipes and dances of shepherds, who play such a central role in the original Biblical story.
Menotti himself would not wish one to analyze the score too closely. Of his music, he wrote, “my operas are not cold, intellectual creatures: they are rather nice to look at, impulsive and warm-hearted… Although you may enjoy listening to their voices through a speaker, if you are to know them well, I still recommend that you should spend an evening with them at the theater.” So with the composer’s advice in mind, let us go no further with details; let the work stand on its own feet, ideally in a live performance.
By Betsy Schwarm