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.
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’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 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.
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.
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’.