Arts & Culture News

The wonder of ‘Amahl and the Night Visitors’

Diego Soler as Amahl

Among the varied cultural fare welcoming this most wonderful time of the year, one short opera stands out—Gian Carlo Menotti’s “Amahl and the Night Visitors.”

Scheduled for a one-night performance on Dec. 14 at seven at the Ayala Museum, this MusicArtes production continues what producer Jay Valencia Glorioso envisions as “a festival of Menotti operas which are most accessible to audiences, especially because they are one or two acts only and are sung in English. “

“We have long wanted to do ‘Amahl’ five to six years ago, but every year, we couldn’t find a sponsor. This time, we decided to stage it right after ‘The Medium,’ with God’s help!” she said.

The two Menotti operas are part of her group’s Opera Intima series. The aim is to reach more audiences and bring opera up close to intimate viewers. MusicArtes has staged Poulenc’s “La Voix Humaine” and the first run of “The Medium” in 2016 at the black box Mirror Theater in Makati. “Reaching young student audiences is our main goal and mission,” Glorioso added.

Glorioso said, “Diego is a regular talent in commercials and ads, a talented smart charmer who is so in love with music theater. This is his first lead role and in an opera at that.”

The rest of the cast includes, among others, Kay Balajadia Liggayu, Jan Briane Astom, Ronald Abarquez , Michael Bulaong, Rhenz Gabalonzo, a shepherds’ chorus and shepherd dancers.

Astom, who plays King Kaspar, described his first-time experience of working with director Anton Juan: “One could easily be daunted by his literary, historical, cultural, and sometimes even geopolitical approach in interpreting Menotti’s libretto. It works for me because the more I know about all these stuff, the more dimensions I put into my character. There are the expected rigors associated with his unique directing style, but he gets things done. That’s why he continues to be a respected figure in both theater and opera worlds.”

Soprano Kay Balajadia Liggayu as Mother with stage son

About his role, he said, “Playing one of the kings is a huge task. I feel that I have the responsibility to breathe life into Menotti’s childhood. Menotti grew up in Italy during the early 20th century. At the time, Santa Claus as a cultural icon still hadn’t taken root. In fact, Italian children back then thought Santa was too busy delivering gifts to American children. Italians, however, used the story of the Three Kings to deliver Christmas cheer to children who are expecting gifts. According to Menotti’s account, his brother’s favorite king was Kaspar. Despite not having any official back story, Kaspar was thought of by Menotti’s brother as partially crazy with a hearing problem. I have to portray that character, the unofficial comic relief in an already light-hearted opera without compromising the singing. Moreover, I have to add layers to the entire performance because the character I’m portraying has been fully realized in someone else’s mind at some point in history. There’s so much to live up to.”

Glorioso said the timeless quality of Amahl’s story is “its selflessness and generosity of spirit—that is the whole message of Jesus and the Christ Child, especially in this season.

There is also the imagination, innocence and purity in children that older folk should remember and cherish always. We need to keep believing in miracles.”

She first saw “Amahl” on film and YouTube years ago, but had never heard it performed live. She said, “I’ve always been charmed by Amahl’s story and how Menotti made his own librettos for all his operas. He preferred to call his works music dramas. He had this unique gift in having popular appeal, in touching his audiences with interesting melodies and at the same time creating modern intervals for opera. He intended all his works for the stage, even if he was commissioned to do ‘Amahl’ for American television. To hear this opera live during rehearsal is a different, thrilling experience. There is nothing like live theater and opera.”

“Amahl” runs only for an hour so before the opera starts, pianist Paul Casiano will play Benjamin Britten’s “A Ceremony of Carols,”which Glorioso called “a lovely processional and portal before hearing Menotti’s music.”