Opera Profile: Menotti’s Perennial Christmas Opera ‘Amahl and the Night Visitors’

By David Salazar

The perennial Christmas opera, “Amahl and the Night Visitors” made its very first appearance on Dec. 24, 1951 via NBC Opera Theatre.

Since then, it has been a fixture for the holiday season. Just look around the US during late November and throughout December and you will see a plethora of companies finding time for Gian Carlo Menotti’s opera.

It is the US’ “Christmas” opera. Interestingly, Menotti noted that the opera was actually made to capture his childhood in Italy, which was quite different from how US children experience the holiday

“This is an opera for children because it tries to recapture my own childhood. You see, 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,” he said in the booklet from the original recording.

Short Plot Summary

The story kicks off with a disabled boy Amahl who notices a bright star in the sky. His mother, however, does not believe him.

At night, Amahl’s mother weeps at the thought of her son turning into a beggar. Later, there is a knock at the door and Amahl opens it to reveal the three Kings. They are on a journey and would like to stay in the house for the evening. While Amahl’s mother prepares the lodging, the Young boy talks to the Kings. They show him their gifts, which include gold.

Once everyone is asleep, Amahl’s mother attempts to steal some of the gold, but is thwarted by the kings’ page. Amahl stands up for his mother and though they are discovered, the Kings allow her to keep the gold. Upon hearing that the King of all kings is to be born, she offers back the gold as a gift to him and Amahl leaves with the kings to see the newborn child and thank him for helping him back to good health.

Watch and Listen

Check out a performance of the work here from Ash Lawn Opera.


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