Menotti: Amahl & the Night Visitors, My Christmas

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It's remarkable that this classic Christmas opera hasn't received more recordings, but one reason may be its relatively short length (45-50 minutes) and the fact that it's more about the story and its quickly-paced dramatic aspects than the singing--Menotti focuses primarily on dialogue and less on stand-alone arias (this was written for television after all!). But the ensemble nature of the score, the sensitively wrought interaction of the sympathetically drawn characters, the humor, and the poignant relationship of the poor, crippled shepherd boy and his mother, are what give the work its charm and make it so affecting. Not that there aren't many clever and catchy, very pleasing tunes and a couple of fine ensemble numbers and choruses. Menotti's music is just enough and just the right blend of old and newer style.

Although the original 1951 television production conducted by Thomas Schippers (RCA) retains a dramatic edge over this excellent and very welcome newcomer--not to mention a vocally more solid cast--conductor Alastair Willis and his colleagues present a fully satisfying performance that has the advantage of first-rate, modern sound.

My only criticisms concern the acting--there could be a little more use of dramatic pauses and inflective touches, especially at the shocking moment when Amahl discovers he can walk, or in the scene when the Page discovers the Mother and the gold, which here lack the full measure of dramatic force exemplified by Schippers' cast. However, we mostly enjoy the easy interaction of the characters, such as the very effective, poignant moment when the Mother discovers the Kings at the door, or in Amahl's engaging banter with the Kings. The chorus is also fine, as is the orchestra, whose particular colors and instrumental balances are so important to the proper effect of the performance. Ultimately this is a production of this classic work that will hold up to many years of repeat hearings--and it's a pleasure to have it in a recording that obviously relishes and successfully captures the ambience of its chamber-opera character.

--David Vernier,

Product Description:

  • Release Date: November 18, 2008

  • Catalog Number: 8669019

  • UPC: 730099901970

  • Label: Naxos

  • Number of Discs: 1

  • Period: 20th Century

  • Composer: Gian Carlo Menotti

  • Conductor: Alastair Willis, George Mabry

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Chicago Symphony Chorus members, Nashville Symphony Chorus, Nashville Symphony Orchestra

  • Performer: Bart LeFan, Dean Anthony, Ike Hawkersmith, Kevin Short, Kirsten Gunlogson, Todd Thomas