Matthew Goodheart plays Amahl and Hilerie Klein-Rensi portrays his mother in Amahl and the Night Visitors. The holiday opera will be presented at the Anderson Center's Chamber Hall at 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. Dec. 11-12.
Photo by Jiang Wu
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It started as the first opera written for television and became a Christmas Eve tradition for millions of Americans in the 1950s. It continued to gain local fans as an annual holiday production for Tri-Cities Opera in Binghamton.
Now Amahl and the Night Visitors has a new home: the Anderson Center’s Chamber Hall at Binghamton University.
“It’s an important show and a great opportunity,” said Timothy Perry, Music Department chair and professor. “It’s the kind of piece we thought we could successfully take on. We have a great facility to do this.”
The Chamber Hall will play host to the story of a disabled boy and poor mother whose lives are transformed when they are visited by three kings on their way to see the Christ child. The Gian Carlo Menotti-written opera will be performed at 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 11-12. Tickets are $8 for adults and $5 for children and students ($25 maximum for families with two adults and four children).
While the Music Department is presenting the show in conjunction with Tri-Cities Opera, Amahl has a University feel: The cast features alumni and music master’s students, while the chorus is predominantly undergraduate students.
“Having it here will make it easier to become more student-based,” said Perry, who will serve as the conductor for the show. “That’s one of the areas we want to develop – getting more opera and operatic events (on campus). Our hope is to not just build this for the master’s students, but to develop undergraduate opportunities, too.”
Perry, director Thomas Goodheart and cast members said they are excited about bringing a classic to students and others who may not have had much exposure to opera.
“It’s a great piece to introduce someone to the idea of opera,” Perry said. “A lot of people are put off by opera and have preconceptions. This is a very accessible piece. You don’t have to come with anything other than curiosity. It’s like going to a good movie – only shorter.”
Brister Hay, an MM opera student who will play King Kaspar in Amahl, agreed.
“Young people are sometimes afraid of opera,” he said. “They think ‘long’ or ‘boring.’ This is short, sweet, fun and has comedy and tragedy. I think it’s important for students that this is their introduction to opera.”
Briana Sakamoto, who is a member of the Amahl chorus, said the “touching story” will appeal even to those unfamiliar with the opera.
“There’s something special about this show – the sentiment and heart in it,” Sakamoto said. “We’re often lucky to be guests at the opera company, but now it’s on our home turf. We get to introduce this to our fellow students and peers.”
For Goodheart, a visiting assistant professor of voice from Purchase College Conservatory of Music, directing Amahl is almost like a homecoming: He was a resident artist with Tri-Cities Opera in the late 1980s after graduating from the Manhattan School of Music.
“I’m so happy to be here because I’ve always loved the opera company and the area,” said Goodheart, who has performed dozens of leading roles with opera companies throughout the United States. “The University is terrific to work with.”
The production also is a family affair for Goodheart, as his 12-year-old son Matthew is playing Amahl. Matthew, a student at St. John the Evangelist School in Binghamton, is a member of the Parlor City Boys Chorus.
“It’s fun for us to be involved in this,” Thomas Goodheart said. “At Purchase, it was a tradition to do Amahl. I can remember when Matthew would go to child care at the age of 2 and we would pick him up and take him to Amahl rehearsals. From the age of 2 or 3 he was singing this music. For him to step in is very familiar. He’s always been around singing.”
Matthew is aware of the historical significance of Amahl and has been watching video of a Menotti-directed show from the early 1950s.
“I want everyone over 60 to be crying,” he said, to the laughter of others.
Matthew added that a school mishap has made using a crutch onstage more believable.
“It’s really hard to play a crippled person, but now that I twisted my leg at school it’s not that hard,” he said.
Thomas Goodheart said the themes Menotti developed in Amahl and the Night Visitors – transformation, faith and humanity – still resonate today and touch audience members of all ages.
“The spirit of Menotti is to bring the arts to the people,” he said. “Make it accessible to the people. Opera relates to everybody. I feel so lucky to be part of this. It’s one of those pieces that has a magical quality to it.”