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Perhaps he established eye contact from the canvas — the king in the turban, and wearing brocade. Like stepping out of a dream, the composer must have experienced the spell-breaking magic of inspiration when he viewed The Adoration of the Magi by the Flemish painter Hieronymus Bosch at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. At the age of forty, his life depended upon another successful opera. Indeed, Gian Carlo Menotti’s commission for NBC television became an overnight success, and the magic continues annually — this time, in Jones Auditorium, at Meredith College. Presented by Capital Opera, with Jim Waddelow, conductor, and Wayne Wyman, stage director, another generation of concert goers and their youngsters were touched by Menotti’s beloved Amahl and the Night Visitors.
Inspired by the vivid blues and greens of the famous oil and gold on wood masterpiece, Robert Hansen’s design, coupled with Thomas Mauney’s lighting, involves scenery that is intimately simple. A tent-like frame and fabric construction evokes the waving tapestry upheld by four angels that protect the presepio (nativity scene) from the weather. It is spare — the fireplace is empty and cold.
Menotti’s story is revealed through the eyes of Amahl, an impish, crippled shepherd boy, sung by Aaron Krista. Tapping into his own colorful childhood memories, Menotti penned the beautifully poetic libretto. Soprano Risa Poniros sings the role of The Mother, a fiery and dramatic figure. Opening the scene with the familiar falling minor third of "Amahl," her voice is well-developed and richly powerful. A perfect match — the widowed mother Menotti remembers, beneath the domineering, emotive exterior — she is vulnerable and alone.
As in the painting, the three exotic Kings take center stage. Processing through the aisles, with mysterious aura, the trio’s booming “From far away we come,” in C Minor, echoed through the hall — and the faces of children lit up in delight.
Tenor John Cashwell, recently praised for his performance in "A Blitzen-Weill Cabaret Evening in Two Acts," sang the role of King Kaspar. With clarity, perfect diction, and velvety texture, his voice is commanding. “This is my box” crystallized his flawless performance in his endearing portrayal of the humorously deaf character. The musical climax, Menotti’s stunning “Have you seen a Child...,” also included baritone David Blalock, who equals Cashwell in quality and strength, singing the role of King Melchior. Bass Robert Weston Williams’ voice is deep and richly textured, like the brocade of his gown. A mild mannered King Balthazar, Williams sings the role with understated, regal assurance. With the gilded thread of the soprano line in melodic counterpoint, the perfectly-tuned quartet peaks with Poniros’ soaring high “A.”
Menotti expressly calls for a boy soprano for the part of Amahl — which is inherently risky. And though young Aaron Kriska sings with clarity and rhythmic precision, a skillful technician might have solved the problem of imbalance with a microphone. As the hour unfolded, his confidence and strength grew markedly, culminating with the poignant “I shall miss you very much.”
Living on a budget is challenging for small companies. But cutting corners exposed some rather thin spots. The conspicuously absent harp, for example, was sorely missed. A little more coaching might have gone a long way — especially at the final miraculous scene, which seemed awkward.
Yet there is plenty of praise to go around. Jonathan Hart made his Capital Opera debut as The Page; Musette Strong and Franklin Shelton Barefoot’s Shepherds dance, suggesting Sufi whirling dervishes, was splendidly performed. And the chorus’ enchanting “Emily, Emily” was bright, articulate and beautifully balanced. Despite the reduced numbers, the orchestral players were excellent. Kim Potter’s oboe solo was delightful, and first violinist and concertmaster Ariadna Bazarnik-Ilika’s beautiful silky tone was radiant.
If you have a chance, get in line early for matinee or evening tickets. Even if this weekend marks your inaugural experience, you’ll find yourself singing Menotti’s tuneful melodies all the way home.
Capital Opera will offer two more performances on Saturday, December 20, at 3:00 pm and again at 7:30 pm in Jones Auditorium at Meredith College. For details, see our calendar.