Saturday, December 26, 2015

Amahl and the Night Visitors

The opera Amahl and the Night Visitors was broadcast on television every Christmas season from 1951 through 1966. During the years 1951-1962 the broadcasts showed live performances in color, and during the years 1963-1966 showed a videotape in black-and-white. 

I think that I watched the opera on television every year during 1963-1966, because I saw the same performance about four times, always in black-and-white. During 1963-1966, I was 11 to 14 years old.

It's possible that I saw the opera broadcast live in 1962 and earlier, but then we still had only a black-and-white television. I am certain that I never have seen the opera broadcast in color.

Watching Amahl and the Night Visitors on television during the Christmas season was something we did every year. The broadcasts did not happen after 1966, because the composer Gian Carlo Menotti decided that he did not like the black-and-white recording and so took legal action to stop the broadcasts.

Now the entire old black-and-white broadcast can be watched on YouTube.

If you watch some of this video now, you probably will be surprised to know that the opera was very popular in the early 1960s. As a boy aged 11 to 14, I loved watching it on television every year, attentively from beginning to end.

I remember watching the opera performed live in the Concordia College auditorium one year, perhaps around 1967. I suppose that this live, local performance was done by a traveling troupe taking advantage of the fact that the televised broadcasts had ended. I remember that the auditorium was packed, and I myself enjoyed watching it. Since I had watched it on television four or so times, I knew the story and songs well.

The opera was broadcast live in color on television in 1978. There's no way, however, that watching the opera ever could become a Christmas tradition again. Now, practically no kids could bear to watch it for even five minutes.

Here is the Wikipedia story synopsis.
Amahl, a disabled boy who can walk only with a crutch, has a problem with telling tall tales. He is sitting outside playing his shepherd's pipe when his mother calls for him (Amahl! Amahl!). After much persuasion, he enters the house but his mother does not believe him when he tells her there is an amazing star "as big as a window" outside over their roof (O Mother You Should Go Outside; Stop Bothering Me!). 
Later that night, Amahl's mother weeps, praying that Amahl not become a beggar (Don't Cry Mother Dear).  
After bedtime (From Far Away We Come), there is a knock at the door and the mother tells Amahl to go see who it is (Amahl ... Yes Mother!). He is amazed when he sees three splendidly dressed kings (the Magi), one of whom is black. At first the mother does not believe Amahl, but when she goes to the door to see for herself, she is stunned. The Three Kings tell the mother and Amahl they are on a long journey to give gifts to a wondrous Child and they would like to rest at their house, to which the mother agrees (Good Evening!; Come In!), saying that all she can offer is "a cold fireplace and a bed of straw".  
The mother goes to fetch firewood, and Amahl seizes the opportunity to speak with the kings. King Balthazar answers Amahl's questions about his life as a king and asks what Amahl does. Amahl responds that he was once a shepherd, but his mother had to sell his sheep. Now, he and his mother will have to go begging.  
Amahl then talks with King Kaspar, who is childlike, eccentric, and a bit deaf. Kaspar shows Amahl his box of magic stones, beads, and licorice, and offers Amahl some of the candy (Are You A Real King?; This is My Box). The mother returns (Amahl, I Told You Not To Be A Nuisance!). Amahl is told to go fetch the neighbors (All These Beautiful Things; Have You Seen a Child?) so the kings may be fed and entertained properly (Shepherds! Shepherds!; Emily! Emily; Olives and Quinces; Dance of the Shepherds). 
After the neighbors have left and the kings are resting, the mother attempts to steal for her son some of the kings' gold that was meant for the Christ child (All That Gold). She is thwarted by the kings' page. ("Thief! Thief!") When Amahl wakes to find the page grabbing his mother, he attacks him. ("Don't You Dare!")  
Seeing Amahl's weak defense of his mother and understanding the motives for the attempted theft, King Melchior says she may keep the gold as the Holy Child will not need earthly power or wealth to build his kingdom. ("Oh, Woman, You Can Keep That Gold") The mother says she has waited all her life for such a king and asks the kings to take back the gold.  
She wishes to send a gift but has nothing to send. Amahl, too, has nothing to give the Child except his crutch. ("Oh, No, Wait") When he offers it to the kings, his leg is miraculously healed. ("I Walk, Mother") With permission from his mother, he leaves with the kings to see the Child and give his crutch in thanks for being healed.

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