Compact Discoveries®
a series of one-hour radio programs produced, written, hosted, and edited
by Fred Flaxman

©2013 by Fred Flaxman

Program 219
"Amahl and the Night Visitors"


MUSIC: excerpt from Menotti: Amahl and the Night Visitors performed by members of the Nashville Symphony Chorus and members of the Chicago Symphony Chorus with the Nashville Symphony Orchestra conducted by Alastair Willis [Naxos 8.669019, track  9] [under the following]

Hello and welcome to another hour of Compact Discoveries. I’m Fred Flaxman, and the next 60 minutes will be devoted to the first opera ever written for television: Gian Carlo Menotti’s Amahl and the Night Visitors. It was commissioned by NBC, the National Broadcasting Company, in the United States, and was first televised by that network on Christmas Eve in 1951.

Between 1951 and 1966 Amahl and the Night Visitors was shown each year on NBC during the Christmas season. In 1963 it was remade by NBC with an all-new cast, and this production was shown for the next three years.  Then in 1978, a new production was filmed by NBC, partly on location in the Holy Land. Meanwhile the BBC commissioned two productions of its own, the first broadcast in December 1955; the second, four years later. The composer himself directed another filmed version in 1996.

In addition to these TV productions and films, there are more than 500 live performances around the world every year by amateur groups of this immensely popular work. So this opera could well be the most viewed in history.

In 2008 Naxos issued a new audio recording with members of the Nashville and Chicago Symphony choruses, along with the Nashville Symphony Orchestra, and it is that recording that we shall listen to now.

MUSIC: fades out

The libretto for Amahl and the Night Visitors was also written by Gian Carlo Menotti. The story, which was inspired by Hieronymus Bosch’s painting, The Adoration of the Magi,  takes place near Bethlehem after the birth of Jesus.

Amahl is a disabled boy who has a problem with telling the truth. Because of this his mother does not believe him when he tells her of an amazing star that can be seen in the night sky.  Later, there is a knock at the door and his mother tells him to see who it is.  He is amazed when he sees three splendidly dressed kings. And, of course, his mother has a hard time believing him when he tells her what he has seen. The kings tell Amahl and his mother that they are on a long journey to give gifts to a very special child, and that they would like to rest.

Later that night, when the kings are sleeping, Amahl’s mother attempts to steal some of the gold the kings brought with them, but her theft is thwarted by the Page.

Amahl puts forth a spirited defense of his mother, and the kings realize that she was trying to steal out of fear that her crippled child would otherwise have to become a beggar. So one of the kings says she may keep his gold, as the Holy Child doesn’t need earthly power or wealth to build his kingdom.

The mother wishes to send a gift to Jesus as well, but has nothing to give. Neither does Amahl, except for his crutch. As he offers it, his leg is suddenly no longer lame, and he joyfully goes with the kings to see the child and give thanks for being healed.

In this Naxos compact disc, Amahl is sung by Ike Hawkersmith and his mother by Kirsten Gunlogson. The kings are sung by Dean Anthony, Todd Thomas, and Kevin Short. Bart LeFan sings the role of the page to the kings. George Mabry directs the members of the Nashville Symphony Chorus. Duain Wolfe directs the members of the Chicago Symphony Chorus. And Alastair Willis conducts the Nashville Symphony Orchestra.

MUSIC: Menotti: Amahl and the Night Visitors performed by members of the Nashville Symphony Chorus and members of the Chicago Symphony Chorus with the Nashville Symphony Orchestra conducted by Alastair Willis [Naxos 8.669019, tracks 1-27]

Gian Carlo Menotti’s Amahl and the Night Visitors from the 2008 Naxos recording with Ike Hawkersmith as Amahl and Kirsten Gunlogson as his mother. The Nashville Symphony Orchestra was conducted by Alastair Willis. My thanks to Naxos for their permission to broadcast this recording, and to Richard Whitehouse for his program notes, which I modified for use in introducing this performance.

Although Menotti is best known for his operas, he has also written large-scale orchestral works; concertos for piano, violin, and double bass; cantatas, songs, chamber works,  and ballet music. I’ll tell you more about this composer and share some of his non-operatic works on another hour of Compact Discoveries.

If you missed any of this program or would like to hear it again, go to compactdiscoveries.com on the internet, where you’ll find links to stream Compact Discoveries programs on demand without charge. You’ll also find information on every recording used in every program. This is program number 219.

I enjoy hearing from listeners from all over the United States and the world beyond, where these programs are carried 24 hours a day, seven days a week on the SKY.FM internet radio service.  You can contact me through the Compact Discoveries website or you can simply e-mail me at fred@compactdiscoveries.com. I’m Fred Flaxman. Many thanks for listening!

MUSIC: fade into “Shepherd’s Dance” from Menotti: Amahl and the Night Visitors performed by the Nashville Symphony Orchestra conducted by Alastair Willis [Naxos 8.669019, track  18]  [ends at 57:36]

ANNOUNCER (Tana Flaxman): Compact Discoveries is made possible in part by Story Book Publishers, offering Fred Flaxman’s Pinnacle-Award-winning, tongue-in-cheek memoir, Sixty Slices of Life… on Wry: The Private Life of a Public Broadcaster, available in paperback and e-book formats at Amazon.com. And by the financial support of Isabel and Marvin Leibowitz, and by an anonymous donor from Palm Beach, Florida.

Program Ends at 58:00