December 11, 2009

Amahl and the Night Visitors

The season of Advent in Pirton was graced by a production of Amahl and the Night Visitors presented for two performances in St Mary’s Church by Pirton Players. ‘Amahl’ is a one-act opera written originally for television by the Italian-America composer Gian Carlo Menotti. After its premier on Christmas Eve 1951 the opera was performed internationally in opera houses, churches and other venues for some decades. It is still often performed in the United States and Italy but not so frequently in this country. This is rather puzzling because ‘Amahl’ is, as this production amply demonstrated, a delightful work ideally suited to the Christmas season.

The story is set in Palestine at the time of the birth of Jesus in a poor crippled boy’s home on the road to Bethlehem. Amahl lives in a humble dwelling with his mother who has to beg for a living. One winter’s night a knock on the door reveals three splendid kings seeking shelter. They are invited in, offered hospitality and are entertained by local shepherds. During the night Amahl’s mother is tempted to steal some of the riches brought by the kings to offer to a special new-born child they are seeking (‘Have you seen a Child the colour of wheat, the colour of dawn?’), but she is apprehended by the king’s Page and is filled with remorse. When the forgiving kings say more about the wondrous babe they are seeking, Amahl decides to give the child his only possession – his crutch – and then a miracle happens…….

Although the opera is short – less than an hour in length – it is by no means easy to perform. While not full of hummable tunes, the music is effective in portraying the various characters and emotions. However, it is quite challenging and presents many entries which are difficult for both soloists and chorus to pitch correctly. Nevertheless the performers – including a pared-down orchestra of eight instrumentalists – rose splendidly to the challenge under the expert musical direction of Margaret Johnson.

The overall direction was in the experienced hands of Loretta Concannon who ensured that the story unfolded in a simple and moving way. She imaginatively used the central aisle of the Nave for the entries of the kings and the shepherds and effectively managed the large cast in the Crossing where most of the action took place.

The orchestra and chorus acquitted themselves well and the soloists are all to be congratulated on their performances. Graham Gibbs, Tim Hobman and Peter Johnson, as the kings, were a well-differentiated trio both vocally and dramatically while Sue Kennedy was a convincing Page. Alison Gibbs gave an impassioned, full-voiced account of the Mother’s part but the star of the show, without a doubt, was Georgie Cole as Amahl. She was utterly convincing as the little crippled boy and she sang the part beautifully, with absolute confidence – a remarkable achievement.

It was good to see this production mounted so successfully in the new space created at St Mary’s by the completion of the Upper Room Project, though it seems rather a pity that there were only two performances. Is there a possibility that it might be revived in the future either at St Mary’s or elsewhere?

 

[Review by: Peter Williams]


Director  -  Loretta Concannon
Producer - Stella Turner

Cast
Amahl  -  Georgie Cole
King Balthazaar  -  Peter Johnson
King Kasper  -  Graham Gibbs
King Melchoir  -  Tim Hobman
Mother  -  Alison Gibbs
Page  -  Sue Kennedy
Shepherd  -  Sophie Davies
Shepherd  -  Amanda Vines
Shepherd  -  Anthony Gordon
Shepherd  -  Valmai Guess
Shepherd  -  Viv Tyler
Shepherd  -  Victoria Turner
Shepherd  -  Stella Turner
Shepherd  -  Dave Tinney
Shepherd  -  Antonietta Tinney
Shepherd  -  Margaret Snape
Shepherd  -  Mark Savage
Shepherd  -  Jill Rogers
Shepherd  -  Justine McCreith
Shepherd  -  Peter Harding
Shepherd  -  Simon Blenkin
Shepherd  -  Sophie Carroll
Shepherd  -  Val Clendon
Shepherd  -  Gena Edwards
Shepherd  -  Fizz Gibbs
Shepherd  -  Stevie Gibbs
Understudy (Amahl)  -  Victoria Turner
Understudy (Mother)  -  Jill Rogers

Cast
Cello  -  Robert Lay
Choreography  -  Amanda Vines
Clarinet  -  Howard Etherington
Construction of Star  -  Penny Picken
Costumes  -  Valmai Guess
Director  -  Loretta Concannon
Double Bass  -  Howard Etherington
Flute  -  Ron Snape
Front of House  -  Susie Welch
Front of House  -  Derek Jarrett
Lighting  -  Paul Turner
Lighting  -  Daniel Eccles
Lighting  -  Peter Johnson
Musical Director  -  Margaret Johnson
Percussion  -  Thomas Rowe
Piano  -  Margaret Johnson
Producer  -  Stella Turner
Props  -  Ann Fausset
Props  -  Sue Kennedy
Publicity  -  Peter Donovan
Recorder  -  Valmai Guess
Refreshments  -  Janet Tackley
Refreshments  -  Lucinda Rowe
Set Construction  -  Graham Gibbs
Stage Manager  -  Peter Tyler
Violin  -  Natasha Dawson

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