A holiday opera to enchant young audiences
There’s plenty to do on our holiday calendar, but one nice addition could be the Columbia-based Opus Concert Theatre’s production of Gian Carlo Menotti’s one-act opera “Amahl and the Night Visitors” at Slayton House Theatre at 3:30 p.m. Sunday.
“This is a great first opera for people to see, because it is in English and has a story that children can relate to,” said Opus Concert Theatre artistic director Diana Cantrelle, who also sings the role of Mother in “Amahl and the Night Visitors.” A mezzo soprano, Cantrelle previously has performed this role at the Santa Barbara Opera in California.
“It’s a chance for people to see that opera is a total experience in which you’re hearing great natural voices that don’t need to be amplified,” she added about a fully staged production that features a principal cast, a chorus and a chamber orchestra.
As Cantrelle noted, “Amahl and the Night Visitors” is a nice way for young audiences in particular to discover the world of opera. Menotti composed the opera in 1951 as the first opera written for television. It has been seen in both televised and staged productions ever since.
The hour-long opera tells the story of the journey taken by the three Magi to visit the infant Jesus. While on their trip, these three kings stop by a house occupied by a poor widow and her disabled young son.
Menotti, who both composed the score and wrote the libretto, drew upon his own youth in Italy as the inspiration for the story.
“This is an opera for children, because it tries to recapture my own childhood,” the late composer wrote in a program note accompanying the original 1951 production. “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.”
Although there certainly are biblical underpinnings for the story, Cantrelle observed that Menotti’s opera “speaks to universal truths. What really appeals to me is that it does not matter what your faith tradition is, because everybody can relate to a parent wanting to care for their children. It’s a story about opening your home to strangers and doing selfless acts.”
Cantrelle’s company first performed “Amahl” at the Howard County Center for the Arts in 2017. This year’s production began with a Dec. 16 performance of “Amahl” at Germano’s Piattini, a restaurant in Baltimore’s Little Italy. It continues with this weekend’s performances at Slayton House Theatre, and then there will be a single performance upcoming in early January at a Columbia church.
Although “Amahl” is shaping up to be a tradition for Opus Concert Theatre, this 3-year-old, semi-professional company has done other operas and plans to do more.
“We are the first opera company in Columbia, and we are filling a need for something that Howard County did not have,” said Cantrelle, who received her master’s degree in voice performance and vocal pedagogy from Baltimore’s Peabody Institute in 2012.
Her company already has done concert-style productions of operas including Purcell’s “Dido and Aeneas” and Bizet’s “Carmen” at various locations in Howard County.
Cantrelle is planning to do Verdi’s “Nabucco” in 2019, as well as an operatic production of her own creation that bears the inviting title “Demented Diva and Her Merry Misfits.”