Why don't opera companies stage "Amahl" at Christmastime?

I’m listening to Amahl and the Night Visitors, as is my annual wont. I love Amahl, and am wondering why it’s never performed.

Ballet companies all over the country base their annual budgets on the money they make hand over fist with the obligatory Nutcracker run every December. I’m not suggesting opera companies could do likewise – but surely they could attract audiences (many of them non opera-goers like myself) and turn it into an annual event, building all kinds of repeat business.

The staging wouldn’t be all that complicated – one set – and the costumes could be cribbed from other productions. Guess it’s not public domain yet, so you’d have to pay a fee to Menotti (or his estate? is he still alive?) … but it seems logicistically not a big deal.

So why don’t they do it?

A stack of WAGs and opinion.

You’re absolutely right - a quick glance at OperaBase shows only five productions world wide. That’s pretty few for such a tuneful, accessible piece that’s themed around Christmas.

I’m sorry to tell you that Menotti is not very highly thought of in the upper echelons of opera companies. I know here in Toronto it hasn’t been done since a lovely Canadian Opera Company Ensemble production in 1981 (!); I saw a production in Edmonton in 1982 while I was there, but since then, I haven’t seen it at all - companies seem content to leave this piece to universities and amateur groups.

I’m afraid it suffers for a couple of reasons - one, it has passed its fiftieth anniversary, which would have been an excellent time for a major revival. Two, its relative age works against it - there’s more cachet to doing a World Premiere than there is to doing a remount of any piece. At present, contemporary opera is exploring less atonal, shocking compositions than, say 30 years ago, so you would think that Gian Carlo would fit right in with the style of ‘Little Women’ (for one example); but dear old Menotti just doesn’t seem to get the respect that I feel he deserves. Certainly around Toronto, it was well known that the Artistic Director and Artistic Administrator of the aforementioned COC hated Menotti’s music, and it was to a singer’s disadvantage to start with a Menotti piece in an audition.

Opera companies that share their house with a Ballet company will find it difficult, because that Ballet company is going to want to cover their debts with a Nutcracker in those weeks.

I’ll tell you for nothing, though; the first impresario that puts a production together using Celine Dion as the Mother, Andrea Bocelli as Kaspar, Josh Groban as Melchior, etc. and shoots it for a DVD is going to make more money than you thought existed!

I was going to say “Our local company is doing it!” (And I was almost in it), but it’s one of the five on Ministre’s list, so it doesn’t really contradict the point.

I’m surprised to hear that it’s not done that often these days. When I was a young teen, our local opera troupe (run by my high school music teacher) seemed to perform it every other year for a few years running. I was in the chorus once I was old enough. We also performed it in our high school a couple of years before I got there. It’d be great hosted by a church – a an easy production, relatively speaking, and lots of nice choral/dancing roles for the non-solo-level performers. A shame it’s fallen by the wayside.

Does OperaBase track non-professional companies? Church groups, etc.? 'Cause perhaps it’s actually missing some smaller entities.

I did it in high school. Is it perhaps considered not challenging enough? Or too much of a kids show?

FWIW, the Wikipedia entry indicates that the opera was first performed in 1951:

“Is now Popular Christmas classic”? :dubious: Looks like it had a nice run on TV in the 50s & 60s, but then more or less disappeared out of the public consciousness after:

Yeah, but a lot of people who remember it from their childhoods (like me) drag out the CD every year.

I appreciate your very thoughtful explanation, Ministre – it all makes sense.

Still seems like a damned shame, though.

(I’ve never seen it live, amateur or pro.)

It’s too similar to Mozart’s Don Giovanni.

Everyone knows if you’ve Don Juan you’ve done Amahl.





I have to post in this thread just in appreciation of that.

I don’t know whether to fall on the floor laughing or cry in pain…

I saw it in college; it seems as though it’s a pretty simplistic work. I mean, that could be how the students performed it (none of those in the work were ones who I could feel were bound for stardom). They might find if below them to do it.

And I must say, I love Valgard’s Don Juan line. That’s great.

Our college put it on - so did my church (which had a professional choir director).

It’s great - but I have to groan at Valgard.

Question for the opera-knowledgable: could a modern company take Amahl, and then “add in” all that is seen to be lacking? I don’t know … perform the music in a different way (maybe massive re-arrangements of the same songs), put tons more money into the sets, etc. Menotti would still be fully credited, of course.

I was going to make a similar joke. Yours however, was not only earlier, but done better.

I’ll join you.

Valgard, that was brilliant/horrible.

I can’t offhand think of another opera whose title character is a small boy. Could that create a casting problem? Small boys who can (and WILL) sing opera can’t be that common these days.

A boy is optimal but not necessary. Our production used a young woman with a clear, pure, high soprano. Worked very well.

The production I saw had a petite soprano woman playing the part of Amahl.

Maybe, but probably not an opera company, and probably not in the direction of making it more operatic. Let me try to justify that opinion.

In general, opera companies prefer to leave the music ‘as the composer intended’. Revising usually means using an earlier or a later version as the basis for changing something. Occasionally, as in Magic Flute, scenes will be switched around to try and make a better through line, dramatically speaking. Sometimes, an opera will get ‘finished’ by another composer - Berg’s “Lulu” or Puccini’s “Turandot” are the first two major examples that come to mind. The story of the premiere of Turandot is particularly touching -

from the Wikipedia article. In general, though, pieces are performed as the composer left them.

The thing that works best about Amahl, in my opinion, is the simplicity with which the story is treated. There isn’t much to be gained from setting it in another place or time, and I can’t see an elaborate set adding much to things either. Part of why people set ‘Boheme’ in 1960’s NYC or ‘Norma’ in Belfast during the height of the troubles is that there is some sort of parallel between the original setting and the setting of the director’s concept. I’m struggling desperately to think of an altered setting that could possibly add to the power of Amahl as it is, and I’m not coming up with anything that wouldn’t ruin it.

So now I start thinking of Amahl as something redone as a piece of strong musical theatre - not big, splashy ‘Cats’ or ‘Les Mis’ kind of stuff, and most certainly not like the ‘Rent’ reworking of ‘Boheme’ or the ‘Miss Saigon’ reworking of Madama Butterfly, but something where that quiet simplicity allows the singing actors to tell the story, with nothing in the way. Sort of like ‘Man of La Mancha’, only not even that flashy. It’s about a single mother and her brilliant, imaginative son, and how their lives change in a single night, when a seed of hope is planted in the rough ground of despair.

Anyway, I think that’s the trick with it - I wouldn’t want to see it gussied up any, if anything, I’d like to see it go to people in rags living in a lean-to off the sheep pens and everything else is ‘outdoors’.