By Steven Wyman-Blackburn
3:55 PM EST, November 19, 2012
Amahl and the Night Visitors
Nov. 24, 8 p.m., $35, The Bushnell's Autorino Great Hall, 166 Capitol Ave., Hartford, (888) 824-2874, thebushnell.org.
We tend not to think of operas as made-for-TV holiday entertainment, but back in the '50s popular tastes were maybe a little more high-culture than they are now.
Amahl and the Night Visitors, a one-act opera by Gian Carlo Menotti, tells the story of a crippled boy and his widowed mother who are visited unexpectedly by the Three Kings on their way to visit Jesus. The opera was not only a success when it debuted on Christmas Eve in 1951, but was the first of its kind made specifically for television. Until 1966, it was aired every Christmas Eve on NBC.
Mostly Baroque Players perform Amahl and the Night Visitors at the Bushnell this week. "As the name suggests, The Mostly Baroque Players perform mostly baroque pieces, usually by Bach and Handel," says David Hartman, music director and conductor of the ensemble. (They performed George Frideric Handel's Messiah and J. S. Bach's Saint Matthew Passion last year.) "The other part we do is American composers." The group, formed in Fort Lauderdale in 1997, are not like most ensembles: they also have a choir. "We don't look at ourselves as an orchestra with hired singers. We consider our singers as actually part of the ensemble," says Hartman.
With a group containing both a choir and orchestra, The Mostly Baroque Players were a perfect match for this opera. "Four years ago, we worked with a couple of vocal professors at the Hartt School," says Hartman. "My son at the time was a boy soprano. One of the voice teachers looked around while we were doing a performance and said 'You have all the people you need to do Amahl!' And that was how we got the idea." When the ensemble began performing Amahl and the Night Visitors in 2008, Hartman's son, Johan, played Amahl. But now, for their fourth performance, Johan will be The Page while his sister, Margretta, will portray the role of Amahl.
This particular production of the opera, like the original, will also be performed for one night only like it was done on NBC. "We have a couple of twists to the story we put in," says Hartman. "I don't want to give them away, but I think that they are very satisfying."
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