OVERNIGHT REVIEW: “Amahl and the Night Visitors” retains charms at the Pasadena Playhouse

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily
News

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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.

Information: www.operaposse.com

 

57152-Amahl photo.jpg

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.

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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.

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Hemidemisemiquavers:

  For the
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.

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(c) Copyright 2011, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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UPDATE: 1/2-price tickets available for “Amahl and the Night Visitors; Worby to conduct Saturday night

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News

Goldstar.com is offering half-price tickets for this weekend’s Opera Posse performances of Amahl and the Night Visitors, being performed at the Pasadena Playhouse. MORE

Moreover, although you would know it from Opera Posse’s Web site, an article by Richard S. Ginell on the Los Angeles Times Web site says that Rachael Worby — former Pasadena Pops music director now heading up her new venture entitled Muse-ique — will conduct Saturday night’s performance. Jeffrey Bernstein, who is leading the other performances, has a Pasadena Master Chorale concert on Saturday night.  Read Rich’s article HERE.
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(c) Copyright 2011, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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Five-Spot: What caught my eye on December 8, 2011

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily
News

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Each Thursday morning, I list five events that pique my
interest, including (ideally) at least one with free admission (or, at a minimum,
inexpensive tickets). This weekend offers a plethora of opportunities, so
there’s more than five listed.

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Tonight and
tomorrow at 8 p.m. Sunday at 2 p.m. at Walt Disney Concert Hall

Los Angeles
Philharmonic; Thomas Wilkins, conductor

The Getty Museum has spearheaded a major collection of
events under the umbrella of “Pacific Standard Time” and these concerts are the L.A. Phil’s contribution. Wilkins, who
is principal conductor of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, leads a program of
music ranging from Eric Wolfgang Korngold to John Williams. Zull Bailey will be
the soloist in Korngold’s Cello Concerto (which was featured in the Bette Davis
film, Deception). This is a rare
opportunity to hear movie music played in the wonderful Disney Hall acoustics. Info:
www.laphil.com

 

Friday at 8 p.m.
Saturday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Sunday at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. at Pasadena Playhouse

Opera Posse: Amahl and the Night Visitors

Opera Posse picks up from the now-shuttered Intimate Opera
Pasadena in presenting this familiar one-act opera, written by Gian Carlo
Menotti in 1951 for NBC television. Last year’s presentation was one of the
season’s highlights and this year’s production features most of the artists who
brought it to life, including Director Stephanie Vlahos and set designer John
Iacovelli. The cast includes noted mezzo-soprano Suzanna Guzmn as the mother
and Caleb Glickman in the title role. As was the case last year, actor Malcolm
McDowell will intro the opera by reading Dylan Thomas’ A Child’s Christmas in Wales. Michelle J. Mills’ article in last
week’s Star-News is HERE. Concert Info: www.operaposse.com

 

Saturday at 8 p.m.
at Alex Theater (Glendale); Sunday at 7 p.m. at Royce Hall (UCLA)

Los Angeles Chamber
Orchestra; Jeffrey Kahane, conductor

Kahane returns to the LACO podium to lead a program that
includes music by Ravel, Respighi and Thomas Ades. Cellist Ralph Kirshbaum will
be the soloist in Tchaikovsky’s Variations
on a Rococo Theme.
This is the first of two major appearances by Kirshbaum
this season; he will also be on a Los Angeles Philharmonic program March 15
playing the Dvorak Cello Concerto as part of the Piatagorsky International
Cello Festival (LINK). LACO info: www.laco.org

 

Saturday at 8 p.m. at
Walt Disney Concert Hall

Boston Symphony
Orchestra; Ludovic Morlot, conductor

The famed BSO makes its first Los Angeles appearance in 20
years bringing a program of music by John Harbison, Ravel and Brahms. Gil
Shaham will be the soloist in Brahms’ Violin Concerto. It’s also a chance to
take the measure of Morlot, who took over the season as music director of the
Seattle Symphony from retiring Gerard Schwarz and may be a candidate to succeed
James Levine as the BSO’s music director. Info:
www.laphil.com

 

Handel’s Messiah

There are several opportunities this season to partake of
this ultra-familiar but still beloved oratorio that tells the story of the life
of Jesus Christ. A (not complete) list includes:

 

Saturday at 7:30
p.m. at First United Methodist Church, Pasadena

Angeles Chorale and Da Capo Players Chamber Orchestra,
conducted by Donald Neuen. Info: www.angeleschorale.org

 

Sunday at 3 p.m. at
Segerstrom Concert Hall, Costa Mesa

Pacific Symphony and Pacific Chorale; Christian Knapp,
conducting. Info: www.pacificsymphony.org

 

Monday at 7:30 p.m.
at Walt Disney Concert Hall

Los Angeles Master Chorale “Messiah Sing-Along.” If you’ve never done one of these, it’s a
fantastic way to experience this famous work. The audience joins with the
Master Chorale in the choruses — or you can just listen and be surrounded by
sound. Bring your own score or buy one for $10. Info: www.lamc.org

 

Tuesday and
Wednesday at 8 p.m. at Walt Disney Concert Hall

Philharmonia Baroque and Philharmonia Chorale; Nicholas
McGegan, conductor. Info: www.laphil.com

 

And the weekend’s “free admission” program …

 

Saturday at 7:30
p.m. at Pasadena Presbyterian Church

66th
annual Candlelight and Carols Concert

All of the church’s choirs participate in this annual event,
which also features plenty of audience caroling. The featured work on the
program is Veni Emmanuel by local
composer Elizabeth Ann Sellers, with the Kirk Choir and Friends of Music
Orchestra conducted by Timothy Howard. (Full disclosure: I sing in two of the
choirs participating.) Information: www.ppc.net

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(c) Copyright 2011, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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