What happened to the three kings on their way to visit the baby Jesus? Painted Sky Opera answers that question with their production of “Amahl and the Night Visitors” at 7 p.m. this Friday, December 14 and 5 p.m. on Saturday, December 15.
The opera will unfold at First Baptist Church of Oklahoma City at 1201 North Robinson. Written specifically for young audiences, this classic Christmas opera appeared on television for many years in the 20th century and holds the distinction as the first televised Christmas special to become an annual tradition.
The opera presents a tuneful portrait of the three kings’ visit to the home of Amahl, a poor young shepherd boy who lives with his mother. The three kings tell their hosts that they follow the Eastern star bearing gifts for a child who “holds the seas and the winds on his palm.” But, when they ask to spend the night, Amahl’s mother is faced with the question of whether those gifts are better given to this unknown child or taken to keep Amahl and his mother from becoming beggars.
The immediate popularity of “Amahl” in the 1950s made it an annual Christmastime televised event and introduced many people to opera for the first time, including numerous children from the baby boomer generation who watched it every year. While regular television broadcasts ended in the 1960s, many opera companies and churches around the United States have kept the tradition alive with annual performances of the opera that have introduced it to new generations.
This is Painted Sky Opera’s first performance of the show.
“Amahl and the Night Visitors” was composed by Gian-Carlo Menotti, who premiered many of his operas on Broadway and is considered by many opera lovers to be one of the great American opera composers – despite being born in Italy. For Menotti, the focus on young audiences in “Amahl and the Night Visitors” was inspired by his childhood.
“This is an opera for children because it tries to recapture my own childhood,” said Menotti. “You see, when I was a child I lived in Italy, and in Italy we have no Santa Claus. I suppose that Santa Claus is much too busy with American children to be able to handle Italian children as well. Our gifts were brought to us by the Three Kings, instead.”
Director Molly Johnson believes that “Amahl and the Night Visitors” draws its success with audiences partially from its realistic approach to everyday life and plans to emphasize this aspect in Painted Sky Opera’s production of the opera.
“I am touched by how real Amahl and his mother are in their relationship,” Johnson reflected. “They tease, they quibble, they disagree, and they love. Then, one wondrous night, the world of miracles intersects and they are forever changed. We see power of love and of a giving spirit.”
Painted Sky Opera will emphasize this giving spirit by providing discounts and ticket upgrades to attendees who bring food and clothing donations to CareForOKC, a food and clothing ministry of First Baptist Church.
In this production, Catherine McDaniel plays the Mother of the title character Amahl, who is portrayed by Austin Rindler. Other performers include Jordan Andrews and Austin Rindler.
“Amahl and the Night Visitors” will be performed in English and runs about 45 minutes. Molly Johnson directs the show for the stage with music direction by Jan McDaniel. Tickets start at $10 for adults and $5 for children at the door or in advance at www.paintedskyopera.org.
Note: Publisher Patrick B. McGuigan contributed to this story.