For the festive season, pantos and Christmas carols may seem like the perfect type of performance to see right now, but why not take the opportunity to see an opera like Gian Carlo Menotti’s Christmas opera, Amahl and the night visitors? This Sunday, as part of St. John’s Smith Square’s (SJSS) 33rd Christmas Festival, Bampton Classical Opera presented Menotti’s tender and family-friendly opera that is based on the biblical Three Kings’ journey to Bethlehem. (Bampton Classical Opera shall perform Amahl and the night visitors at Bampton on Friday 21 December, 7.30 pm.)
Although this was a semi-staged production, Bampton Opera didn’t require many props for the audience to see and hear the magic of Menotti’s opera. Originally composed for NBC, American viewers saw the broadcast first in 1951 and until 1972 they continued to enjoy seeing various stage production; back then these productions often beat the competition with other classical operas, including le nozze di Figaro.
The poignancy of the opera is highlighted the most by Menotti’s childhood connection to the piece. He stated ‘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.’ Here at SJSS and in superb form, Nicholas Sales, Samuel Pantcheff and Robert Winslade Anderson sang as the three kings. Vocally sturdy, they performed Menotti’s homophonic trios which were a pleasure to hear and sang brilliantly with chorister Felix Gillingwater.
Gillingwater performed the challenging role of Amahl and succeeded in evoking the sentimental tone of the opera. Noteworthy scenes included the hilarious section where Amahl opened the door to each king and ran to tell his unconvinced mother what he saw. Gillingwater depicted Amahl as a weak, handicapped boy and stayed true to the narrative of the opera, yet he also managed to entertain the audience and re-create his own version of Amahl. Winner of Bampton Classical Opera Competition 2017, Emma Stannard gave a glorious portrayal of Amahl’s mother. She presented a desperate, loving and concerned mother struck by poverty. Both were convincing on stage and vocally wonderful together.
Bringing food and drink, they invite their local neighbours over to welcome the royal guests. Julie Edwards, Gilly French, Hannah O’Toole-Thrower, Serenna Wagner, Sam Young and Xavier Hetherington (performing also as the Kings’ Page) danced and performed gracefully to Karen Halliday’s jubilant choreography. Throughout, conductor Anthony Kraus and pianist Keval Shah performed Menotti’s transcription for two pianos, which brought the melancholic and joyous nature of the piece to life, demonstrating how Menotti’s melodious music can be quite catchy too. After watching this short 55-minute opera, it is fair to say it has officially kick-started my Christmas season. It’s definitely one to catch if you’re in Bampton this Friday.
Amahl and the Night Visitors showed at St John’s Smith Square, London SW1P 3HA on Sunday 16 December and will be performing at Bampton at St. Mary’s Church on Friday 21 December (7.30 pm)
Click here to go to St. John’s Smith Square’s website, or click here for more information on Bampton Classical Opera and to book tickets for this Friday’s performance.