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Christmas-based opera comes to the Lyric

The three magi. Photo by Don Ipock

Amahl and the Night Visitors is chiefly remarkable for two things: first, it is the first opera made for television, and second, it is one of the few Christmas-themed operas in regular production, at least in the United States. There are, of course, no shortage of Christmas operas, mostly nativity-based, but they are by and large infrequently performed, those that weren't one-offs in the first place. In various parts of the world, televised rebroadcasts of Amahl productions have become annual holiday traditions. The Lyric have created a scaled-down presentation, using puppets constructed by local puppet artist Paul Mesner.

Amahl is a crippled shepherd boy, who struggles to survive with his widowed mother. One day, while out playing his flute, he sees a glorious star in the sky. That evening their home is visited by three kings who are following the star in search of a promised child. They show off the wondrous gifts they are bringing for him, and the mother sends Amahl to fetch the other shepherds to bring food and dance for their guests. Later that night, the mother tries to steal a bit of gold, but is caught. The kings tell her to keep it, because the child they seek will have no need of gold. She relents, and gives it back, only wishing she had a gift to send as well. Amahl offers to send his crutch, whereupon his leg miraculously heals, and he joins the kings on their journey to Bethlehem.

The production is a short one, coming in at around an hour. The puppetry is well done, even if the facial expressions are a bit off sometimes (the neighbor shepherds, in particular, seem to have a thousand-yard-stare thing going on that this viewer couldn't look away from). Voices are contributed by a cluster of principals beside the puppet stage, and an unseen chorus. On a slightly whimsical note, the main action of the performance is inside a "frame" which almost seems to echo this opera's TV-based origins.

Amahl and the Night Visitors is appearing through December 12 at the Lyric's performance center at 712 E 18th Street. It is suitable for all ages, but proof of vaccine is required.

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From This Author Kelly Luck