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Going with “Ahmal” Once Again

“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.”

Vacation Listening, and Much More

On May 13, I was baking cookies and listening to the Met Broadcast of Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier. One of the announcers explained that this production would take place not in the 18th century, but in 1911, the year it was composed (also the year that Mahler died, I thought to myself). And that’s when it […]

For Braille Readers—A Real Treasure Trove

This afternoon, I looked at the Metropolitan Opera schedule, which appears in the October-December issue of our quarterly magazine The Musical Mainstream. It lists all of the operas to be performed, along with NLS materials, librettos, lectures, etc., pertaining to the operas. Nowhere did I find any mention of a reference book that I read […]

Music History: 101

Recently, we mentioned the Music Section’s acquisition of the sixth edition, Norton Anthology of Western Music, Vol. 3, Twentieth Century. This time of year also marks the beginning of the college spring semester, and we have seen a rise in the average amount of our music history related inquiries. Music history has been on the “brain” of […]

Some Splendid Saint-Saëns Selections

Today we celebrate the 179th birthday of Camille Saint-Saëns, a famous French composer, most well-known for his works The Carnival of the Animals, Danse macabre, Samson and Delilah, and a number of other pieces. Saint-Saëns began his musical studies at the incredible age of three, while he was living with his mother and aunt in […]

Opera Fans Know What’s Happening, but the Devil is in the Details or…Libretti for Everybody!

Some of the Music Section’s most ardent patrons are operagoers.  This comes as no surprise to other opera aficionados, but blind/low vision operagoers are usually not able to pick up a program in braille or large print and read a synopsis when they arrive at the theater; that is, until they (or the opera companies) […]