By Kelsi Williamson and Stacy Acton
While the plot may follow a traditional holiday story, this year’s ACU opera, Amahl and the Night Visitors, is not your traditional opera.
A combination of The Nativity Story and A Christmas Carol in lyrical form, Amahl was the first opera written for television in America. The one-act opera aired live on NBC in 1951 for an estimated five million viewers.
Writer Gian-Carlo Menotti based the story line on the traditional story of Jesus’ birth, highlighting the travels of the three kings (or Wise Men) and their encounters with the young crippled Amahl and his mother. At the time of their introduction, the kings are on their way to visit the baby Jesus, and Amahl and his mother are barely scrimping by in life and on the verge of becoming beggars.
The ACU Department of Music has already performed Amahl twice in the past week, and will have its final performance this Saturday night. Because the opera is double cast, the following review may not highlight some of the cast members in the final performance.
Amahl, played by Anne Marie Rauscher, junior music major from Amarillo, is known for his tendency to exaggerate and speak in tall tales. Rauscher uses her soprano voice to play the 10-year-old Amahl with a childlike sense of hope and innocence. These characteristics are further captured by Rauscher’s excellent comedic timing, which helps to enhance Amahl’s struggle with truth.
Julie Dieltz, senior vocal performance major from Sioux Falls, S.D., perfectly fulfills the role of Amahl’s mother with her soaring voice and sad expressions. Out of desperation and in fear of living the life of a beggar, Dieltz sings with forlorn strength. Her struggle between choosing to do what is right and protecting her family sets the scene for Amahl to act out in loving protection and further display the goodness of his character.
The Wise Men, played by Dean Willis, sophomore vocal performance major from Abilene; Chris Rogers, freshman vocal performance major from San Antonio; and Clinton Perdue, vocal education major from Mesquite, add comedy to the opera that is both surprising and refreshing. They pace the hilarity within certain scenes, complementing and emphasizing Rauscher’s naïve humor throughout the production. The voices of the Wise Men blend in tight harmony and create a chant-like quality in many songs.
With a minimal set and traditional first-century costumes, the opera’s settings resemble a church Christmas pageant in some ways. And while plot themes may turn a bit corny in places, perhaps this is the unexpected element necessary to transform an ordinary opera into a memorable and classic performance – simultaneously breaking from and highlighting tradition.
The Department of Music will perform Amahl and the Night Visitors for the final time at 8 p.m. Saturday in the Williams Performing Arts Center. Amahl will be played by Bree Hembree, freshman vocal performance major from North Richland Hills, and Amahl’s mother will be played by Jillian Nelson, senior vocal education major from Keller. Tickets are $5 for children and students and $10 for adults.