“Oh, no—opera!” I thought as the recording of Amahl and the Night Visitors started. I was perhaps a fourth grader at the Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children in Pittsburgh then, hearing this one-act opera for the first time. Although I could not always understand the words, I had to admit that the mother’s operatic voice really enhanced her anger about her son’s lying. Amahl, sung by a child, was easier to understand: “Please, do believe me. Please, do believe me.” And how I rejoiced when it turned out that Amahl was telling the truth about the star with a tail moving across the night sky, and about the three kings following it.
It became a holiday tradition at our school. Every December, just before vacation, our chorus class would get to listen to the recording of Amahl. And the work must have become less scary for me, for I remember being a bit upset when snow caused me to be late for school one morning, so that I missed the first few minutes of the recording.
In 1972, our high school choir gave a performance of Amahl and the Night Visitors shortly before Christmas vacation. I was in college then, but I have heard a cassette of the performance, since I knew nearly all of the teachers, singers, instrumentalists and dancers who participated.
In my first year as a church organist in 1985, we performed the shepherds’ chorus from Amahl. I asked my assistant to record the choir parts and accompaniment so that I could learn them; after all, an opera first performed in 1951 would not be in braille, right? Wrong. I now know that Howe Press produced a braille music edition in 1955, BRM04903: Vol. 1 has the solo parts, and Vol. 2 (on BARD) has the chorus parts.
Gian Carlo Menotti (1911-2007), also wrote the libretto for this opera, which you will find at BRM25940 and LPM00436 (the braille version is beside me as I write this blog). You can find the story in BRM07032,and in Amahl y los Reyes Magos, DB 15713. Or you may want to try Sing Me a Story: Metropolitan Opera’s Book of Opera Stories for Children, by Jane Rosenberg, DB49694.
So this year, as I settled down to hear Amahl in a live performance, I did not groan, but welcomed the familiar story that still can surprise. I quietly hum here and there, and wait for Melchior to sing my favorite part: “The Child we seek doesn’t need our gold. On love, on love alone He will build His kingdom.”