By Robert D. Thomas
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily
Opera Posse: Amahl and the Night Visitors
December 10, 2011 at the Pasadena Playhouse
Next performances: Today at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Tomorrow at 2
p.m. and 7 p.m.
Suzanna Guzmn stars
as the Mother and Caleb Glickman as Amahl in Opera Posse’s production of “Amahl
and the Night Visitors” (image from last year); the opera is playing this
weekend at the Pasadena Playhouse.
Sixty years ago NBC Television did something that, in
retrospect, seems quite radical: it telecast a one-act opera, Amahl and the Night Visitors, written by
Italian-American composer Gian Carlo Menotti specifically for that Christmas
Eve telecast. In addition to being shown on NBC for many years (see the first Hemidemisemiquaver note below for more
history), the opera has been staged by many companies, schools, churches and
other entitles during the past six decades.
However, genuinely inspired productions are hard to come by.
Last year, in what would turn out to be its last production before going
bankrupt, Intimate Opera Pasadena staged Amahl
with remarkable fidelity to Menotti’s original opera, prefaced it with
actor Malcolm McDowell reading Dylan Thomas’ A Child’s Christmas in Wales, and presented it in the intimate
confines of the historic Pasadena Playhouse, which is a just-right venue for
this chamber opera.
Many of the people involved in last year’s production have
come together in a new venture entitled Opera Posse to re-stage that production
this weekend (most are donating their services in an effort to help this new
company get off the ground and establish Amahl
as a new Pasadens tradition).
And it’s a pleasure to report that that this revival has lost none of
the charm of last year’s offering.
John Iacovelli’s sets are filled with rich, imaginative
details, beginning with the opening scene: a tall window with falling snow in
front of which McDowell sits and reads Thomas’ tale about Christmas Eve and
Christmas Day in long-ago Wales with a rich brogue and impressive shadings.
Only an obnoxiously placed light in the window marred the effect.
That set morphs seamlessly into the simple, poor home of
Amahl and his mother on Christmas Eve. The open roof allows for views of the
Bethlehem star, which moves across the sky as the story of hope and wonder
unfolds (Amahl means “hope” in Arabic). The one act is filled with “unabashed
whimsicality,” as director Stephanie Vlahos notes in the program. She does an
effective job of accentuating those qualities by telling the story without
resorting to unnecessary gimmicks, aided by Kate Bergh’s costumes, Jared A.
Sayeg’s lighting scheme, and Conny Mathot’s choreography.
Suzanna Guzmn’s portrayal of the Mother is a model of
understated professionalism; she catches the mother’s frustration with the
tall-tale-telling Amahl and the pathos of her struggles to provide a home, food
and heat for her and her child. Caleb Glickman is appropriately impish as the
lame shepherd boy.
As is often the cast, The Three Kings — Greg Fedderly as the
somewhat deaf Kaspar, Hector Vsquez as Balthazar, and LeRoy Villanueva as the
stately Melchior — come close to stealing the show. Benito Galindo is the Page
and the exuberant dancers are Stephanie Hullar, Csa Grant and Jarrod Tyler.
Jeffrey Bernstein returns to conduct the 18-piece orchestra
and he kept things moving along smartly. Members of Bernstein’s Pasadena Master
Chorale, as the chorus, got off to a somewhat ragged start but rallied nicely
at the end.
In an era when glitz and high-tech threaten to obliterate
the purposes of Christmas, Amahl and the
Night Visitors reminds us of the meaning behind the seemingly simple tale:
hope and faith. Even on a VERY busy weekend filled with many concerts and other
events, it’s worth revisiting those values with this production.
inaugural telecast, Amahl was seen on
35 NBC affiliates coast to coast, the largest network hookup for an opera
broadcast to that date. An estimated five million people saw the live
broadcast, the largest audience ever to see a televised opera. The first two
telecasts were in black and white; thereafter, it was telecast in color.
Wikipedia offers more background HERE.
Since Bernstein has a Pasadena Master Chorale concert this
evening, Alan Mautner will conduct the 8 p.m. concert. Previous reports had
mentioned Jorge Mester and Rachael Worby taking the helm but both were forced
to drop out.
(c) Copyright 2011, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Portions may be quoted with attribution.