Thursday, December 25, 2008

Amahl and the Night Visitors

Subtitle: Can you spot the orange Canadian?

This Christmas season was made interesting in part by my participation in First Pres's production of Menotti's Amahl and the Night Visitors. I told a couple of people I was playing Shepherdess #12 - that was a lie. I didn't even get a number. But I was a proud chorus member and part of a "family" with a husband and daughter (who were actually father and daughter; I was the only fake in the group).

Amahl is the story of a young shepherd boy in vaguely Biblical circumstances. He lives with his widowed mother in a poor shack; they are in desperate straights and may soon starve. He is crippled and uses a crutch. Then one night the three kings drop in on their way to Bethlehem, following the star.

There is no food in the house so Amahl's mother (Menotti didn't grace her with a name) sends him to find the shepherds in the fields and have them bring food for the kings. That's where me and my fake family come in. All the shepherds arrive with a feast for the kings, and sing and dance for them.

After they've gone and night has fallen, the desperate mother tries to steal a bit of the kings' gold (i.e. the counterpart to the frankincense and myrrh) to feed her starving child. The kings' paige raises the alarm and there is a scuffle, and then King Melchior sings really a lovely song about how she can keep the gold because the child they seek will build his kingdom not on gold but on... um... the raising of the poor, I think, or on love or something equally altruistic (I'm always backstage at that point). So the mother says 'I've waited for that kind of king all my life' and gives back the gold, and Amahl wants to get in on the giving too but all he has is his crutch, his only possession.

And I won't spoil it by telling you what happens next!

It was a beautiful production, with the high production values typical of First Pres. Ken did a beautiful job leading the music and there was a real orchestra. There was a troupe of young people who did a choreographed dance (many of them in my youth choir - I'm so proud) and lots of people said we were the best Amahl chorus they'd ever heard. It's that Shepherdess #12, I'm telling you.

I think Amahl as a play has become dated and I'm not sure I would want to put it on. A famous line comes when Amahl tells his mother there are three kings at the door - "and one of them is black." The supposedly Middle-Eastern shepherds enter singing solid British names out to each other; "Caroline, Caroline, Matthew, Veronica, give me your hand come along with me." Aside from that, I just don't think the "poor wretched crippled boy" thing plays anymore.

I remember being really, really moved by the show when I first saw it. I was about 11, and my friends Theresa (longtime Ontario Youth Choir friend of my mom's) and her son Adrian, who is my age, played the two main roles. So, they were actually mother and son, and they are both wickedly good - it was just really great. (Funnily enough I don't even remember the shepherds from that production... except maybe that twelfth one...) So I think any other production would automatically pale in comparison. But all the main singers were excellent; I really enjoyed the kings especially. The set was beautiful and our costumes were well done. I do want to note, however, that I was NOT in charge of the makeup. They got a little intense on us and most of us came out looking like citrus fruit. We even had to makeup our ankles with this very serious foundation that would not quit - four days later I swear some of it is still on my feet. The person in charge of the makeup works for Mary Kay (enough said; and by the way did you know that Mary Kay started in Dallas?)

David got in on the fun too; he did one of the follow spots. It was a little crazy to be doing this a couple of days before Christmas (our performances were December 20, 21 and 22) but hey - we hardly know anybody in Dallas so we didn't have much else to do! It was a fun and beautiful thing to be a part of. Someone at church even told me that she loved watching me and I'm a really good actress! Way to go, Shepherdess #12.

Note the expert follow-spot work courtesy of David Kopulos.

Melchior doing his thing; more expert follow-spot stylings.

Enjoy these pics! Wish you could have been there to see it!

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