By Annabelle Ady
The Lionel Hampton School of Music Opera Workshop is putting on a special holiday production this year, “Amahl and the Night Visitors,” a one-act Christmas opera written by Gian Carlo Menotti that became a seasonal tradition for people in the U.S. in the 1950s and ’60s.
The opera is a traditional story about a young boy, Amahl, who lives in poverty with his mother. He’s unable to walk without a crutch. One night they are visited by three kings. When his mother is caught trying to steal from them, a miracle occurs that changes Amahl’s life.
Inland 360 caught up with Opera Workshop Director and UI Assistant Professor Christopher Pfund and his wife, Lynette Pfund, a UI instructor and co-director, to ask about the upcoming show.
How and why is opera relevant today?
C.P.: Opera is perhaps the fastest-growing classical performance art form in the world today. Its integration with music theater is part of this trend. Also, general audiences can now understand the story, both because of supertitles that translate foreign languages and also an increased emphasis on storytelling from the singers and directors. People can relate to the universal human themes that run throughout these timeless stories.
L.P.: Opera is the culmination of the greatest areas in the humanities: literature, geography, visual arts, drama, dance, language arts, history, psychology, anthropology, religion, music and others. Opera is its own world, a growing field that needs to be shared, and Menotti’s “Amahl and the Night Visitors” has all that and more. It has love, hope, humor and a miracle.
How many operas do you put on a year?
C.P.: The Lionel Hampton School of Music (stages) one full-length opera every year, along with an extensive opera scenes program. This year, “Amahl and the Night Visitors” is an additional production.
What should the audience expect during this performance?
C.P.: Our setting of the production in the Forge Theater makes the drama very intimate. The singers were carefully chosen, not just on the basis of vocal ability but also their common empathy for the characters involved in the story. Menotti’s music evokes deep emotional connection for both the mother and her crippled son.
What can you say about “Amahl and the Night Visitors”?
C.P.: “Amahl” is in English. It was originally conceived and produced for television broadcast. It is set in biblical times and tells the story of a poor woman and her crippled son who welcome three kings into their household for the evening. The kings are following a star in the east and are bringing gifts to a new child who will be born.
L.P.: “Amahl and the Night Visitors” was broadcast on NBC in 1951. Menotti was commissioned to write it just for TV. It was a TV tradition for many years. People loved it so much, churches all over the country started performing it and then opera companies.
So many people in town have stories about the opera. Many of them grew up seeing it on TV and several have stories about performing it in their hometown churches.
Who are some of the singers and dancers that you chose?
L.P.: There is a large chorus of shepherds and villagers who enter in the middle of the story. The school’s Mixed Choir members are our chorus of shepherds and villagers. The choir members are very excited about the opportunity. For many, this is their first experience with opera.
There are two dancers. Menotti wrote a dance into the opera right after the entrance of the chorus. We have the privilege to have a University of Idaho graduate from the Movement Sciences participating as choreographer and dancer.
What makes this Christmas story special?
C.P.: The setting and story are very realistic, and so is the language of the libretto. In this way, Menotti’s style is an extension of the early 20th century Italian Verismo movement that portrayed the world realistically. For this reason, “Amahl and the Night Visitors” is instantly engaging and relatable.
L.P.: It is a very special show for us. Chris covered the role of Amahl when he was young, and he has sung the role of King Kasper several times. Now we train new opera lovers, our kids, Warren and Cordelia. They are our Amahls for our shows. Warren performs on Saturday and Monday, while Cordelia has one of the Saturday performances. It’s a Pfund affair.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: “Amahl and the Night Visitors”.
WHEN: 4 and 7:30 p.m Saturday and 7:30 p.m. Monday.
WHERE: Forge Theater, at the University of Idaho, 404 W. Sweet Avenue
COST: $8 adults, $5 students and senior citizens at the door. Limited seating available, tickets can be purchased in advance at marketplace.uidaho.edu by selecting Product Categories and then Tickets.