If Handel's "Messiah" is our most divinely inspired Christmas present, surely Gian Carlo Menotti's one-act opera, "Amahl and the Night Visitors," is a stocking-stuffer by angels.
The heartwarming story is familiar to music lovers of all ages. Amahl, a spirited, crippled boy, and his devoted mother live an impoverished life in the Holy Landat the time of Christ's birth. The two are visited by the Three Kings on their journey to present gifts to the babe in Bethlehem.
After the desperate mother is caught stealing the kings' treasures to feed her starving child, Amahl is miraculously cured and leaves with the kings to present his crutch as a thanksgiving offering to the newborn child whose light has healed him.
The Maryland Chamber Singers, under the direction of Jane Dauherty, presented a concert version of this touching and beautiful work at Broadneck High School on Friday evening at the group's annual "Twelfth Night" performance and feast.
An unstaged opera can pose many artistic problems, but the Chamber Singers' "Amahl" was ingeniously conceived. A beautifully integrated slide show, featuring the principal singers in costume actingout moments in the story combined with striking illustrations by pupils at Magothy Middle and the Thomas Pullen School in Prince George'sCounty, moved the musical drama along beautifully.
Musically, things also went reasonably well. Young John Merrill was a real charmer as Amahl, and Prudence Holoski acquitted herself admirably in the maternal role. The mother is usually sung by a steely mezzo-soprano, butHoloski rounded off the edges and delivered the part more sweetly than is the norm. She was very musical, although she might have done more bodily and facially with her lines. Even in these unstaged circumstances, she was a bit too deadpan.
The Magi were sung amiably by Charles Alexander, Gerry Tuck and Bernard Franklin. There were momentsof less than regal intonation, but -- on the whole -- they came through nicely. Alexander's Melchoir was particularly eloquent in the beautiful "Have You Seen a Child?"
The Shepherds Chorus was far more ingratiating in welcome than in departure. "This Is All We Shepherds Can Offer You" was snappily delivered.
Michael Menne accompanied beautifully from the piano, but an oboist of higher quality would havemade for a more evocative performance.
A concluding set of carolswas a pleasure to hear and sing along with. Unfortunately, audience participation was not solicited in Victoria's sumptuous Christmas Motet "O Magnum Mysterium."