In 1951, NBC’s “Hallmark Hall of Fame” debuted and presented an original one-act opera composed specifically for television. Gian Carlo Menotti wrote “Amahl and the Night Visitors” in the space of a month—with an original English libretto by the composer. It was broadcast live from Rockefeller Center. The composer took his inspiration from Hieronymus Bosch’s painting, “The Adoration of the Magi” which is in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and his own childhood experience in Italy, where the Three Kings had not yet been replaced by Santa Claus.
The opera tells the story of a disabled boy in Judea who needs a crutch to walk. He has a great imagination and is always telling tall tales, such as the one he tells of seeing an enormous star in the sky. One night his home is visited by the three kings as they search for the Christ child. At first, his mother does not believe him when he says there are kings at the door asking to rest at her house, but finally she sees for herself.
While the kings sleep, the mother attempts to steal some of their gold so her son will not have to be a beggar. Her attempt is thwarted, but the kings tell her to keep the gold, as the Child has no need for material things. Ashamed, she gives back the gold and regrets she has nothing to send to the Child herself. Amahl runs after the kings and gives them his crutch. In that moment, he is miraculously healed.
“It is the express wish of the composer,” Menotti stated, “that the role of Amahl should always be performed by a boy. Neither the musical nor the dramatic concept of the opera permits the substitution of a woman costumed as a child.”
Six voices, an orchestra, a troop of puppets, and a custom set will combine for two nights of free and timely entertainment when the Montpelier Chamber Orchestra and friends present “A Gift Far Greater,” the MCO’s fall concert featuring a full performance of the children’s opera “Amahl and the Night Visitors.” The performances at Montpelier City Hall on Saturday, November 18 at 7 pm, and Sunday, November 19 at 4 pm, will be free of charge and open to the public thanks to the generosity of six sponsors and individual supporters of the MCO.
“We are very pleased to be gifting this story to our community,” said MCO Music Director Anne Decker in announcing the series. “Perhaps the gift is love; perhaps forgiveness; perhaps it is our community experiencing these things together. We will let you decide.”
Soprano Mary Bonhag is featured in the role of the Mother. Other soloists include Edie Donofrio as Amahl, Adam Hall as King Kaspar, Geoffrey Penar as King Melchior, Eric Kroncke as King Balthazar, and Skip Potter as the Page. The custom set and puppets are the work of visual artist Janice Walrafen, and vocal preparation is by pianist and vocal director Mary Jane Austin. Joe Sanguinetti is the lighting director.
In addition to the opera, the orchestra will open the concert with Amadeus Mozart’s early work for orchestra, Symphony No. 29, K.201 in A Major, which he wrote when he was 18 years old.
Although the concert is free, guests are encouraged to reserve their complimentary tickets in advance by visiting the orchestra’s website at www.montpelierchamberorchestra.org. Reserved seats will he held until 15 minutes before the start of each performance.
Major donors who have helped to underwrite the performance are VELCO, the Vermont Arts Council, Downs Rachlin Martin PLLC, the City of Montpelier, the Montpelier Rotary Club, and the Vermont Mutual Insurance Company. The orchestra is also supported by a number of generous individual donors.
Established in 1994, the all-volunteer Montpelier Chamber Orchestra strives to inspire and enrich Central Vermont audiences of all ages through performances of new and traditional chamber orchestra repertory. The MCO strives to attract the area’s finest amateur and professional musicians for the love of performing high-quality music. The orchestra performs two concerts each in the spring and the fall, works with area schools through Project Outreach, and seeks creative new ways to engage with the community.