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February 03, 2007

A Magical Voice, Silenced

Every Christmas I look forward to hearing one of my favorite holiday pieces: Gian Carlo Menotti's Amahl and the Night Visitor. It brings back wonderful memories, not just of listening to magical music with my father as a tiny girl and letting my imagination run wild, but of introducing my own small sons to the delights of the impudent Amahl, his exasperated but loving Mother, and the vividly painted Three Kings, each with a different personality. It made Christmas come alive for me, especially as there is a very big part of me that has never grown up. To this day, I never tire of hearing Amahl tiptoe back and forth from the door, or of her reaction when, told to stop telling tall tales, he finally admits to her,

"You were right mother - there were not two Kings out there."

"That is a relief"

"There were THREE kings.... and one of them is black!"

The resulting maternal tirade never fails to bring a smile to my face.

Though it is an opera written for children, one of the most poignant songs is one that tugs at a mother's heart. In it, the Three Kings tell Amahl's mother of their search for the Christ child and the gifts they bear for him. She cannot help but feel a mother's anger that in all the world, there is no one to care for her own son, who she fears may not survive without a father to care for him:


Have you seen a Child
the color of wheat,
the color of dawn?
His eyes are mild,
his hands are those of a King,
As King he was born.

Incense, myrrh and gold we bring to his side.
And the eastern star is our guide.


Yes I know a Child
the color of wheat,
the color of dawn.
His eyes are mild,
his hands are those of a King,
As King he was born.

But no one will bring him incense or gold
He's sick and hungry, poor and cold
He is my child, my baby
My own....

There is a wonderful NPR interview with Gian Carlo Menotti here, featuring many of the loveliest clips from the opera. If you've never heard it, it's well worth the time.

And now this magical voice is forever silenced. I will miss him.

Posted by Cassandra at February 3, 2007 11:41 AM

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As a fellow fan of Amahl, I share your sadness at the passing of Gian Carlo Menotti. I also grew up looking forward to seeing the opera when possible and was delighted to obtain first the record, then the CD. I gave copies to my daughters just this past Christmas. They also grew up with Amahl and will continue the tradition with their own children.

Menotti had the ability to create an opera not only filled with musical delights, but humor as well. Kaspar's love of beads and licorice comes to mind as does Amahl singing of the delights of having to go begging.

Mr. Menotti, "I shall miss you very much."

Posted by: Sloan Morganstern at February 3, 2007 01:35 PM

That is my other favorite part: Caspar singing, "This is my box, this is my box - I never travel without my box...". I always used to imagine the other kings kind of rolling their eyes at him in a good-humored way.

I was telling my husband this morning that I never saw it on TV until I was older. I think it was better that way: I was forced to imagine everything for myself. My parents took the kids and us to see it at the Kennedy Center years ago.

Posted by: Cassandra at February 3, 2007 01:39 PM

I never knew of Amahl and the Night Visitors until my best friend (Lyric Mezzo over at South Park Diva was working on her BA in Music. I had already graduated college, but she invited me to come up for a visit and see her perform in the Music Department's production (a year that they didn't put on a Madrigal Dinner, I think). I think that's the only time I've ever seen it performed.

Posted by: Miss Ladybug at February 3, 2007 03:12 PM

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