NYU Steinhardt’s vocal performance program premieres its first opera in the new Iris Cantor Theatre with Gian Carlo Menotti’s “Amahl and the Night Visitors.”
“It’s a great Christmas show that is different from shows like ‘The Nutcracker,’ but it is still very festive. I believe it will rejuvenate people’s joy for the holiday season,” states Anna Miley, a junior in the vocal performance program who portrays Amahl.
This production has undergone various changes according to Diana Heldman, the director of “Amahl” and the Associate Director of Applied Voice at NYU Steinhardt. “I wanted to do it in Washington Square Park, under the arch,” Heldman says, “because I wanted to do it as a piece of community theater, where NYU, the greater community, could come together and participate in it. So, you know, I would love for them to have learned the Shepherd’s music and been able to sing it from the audience and really have an interactive experience in regard to what the message of the piece is. And for me, the message of this piece is about giving and about recognizing.”
“Amahl and the Night Visitors” was commissioned for NBC’s opera company “NBC Opera Live,” and was the first opera created with the television medium in mind. The opera follows Amahl, a young disabled boy who lives in a small town near Bethlehem, and his newly impoverished mother. In the dead of night, three kings arrive at their home seeking shelter while on their journey to meet the Christ Child. “Amahl” was first performed live on air on December 24, 1951.
This production is staged with a minimal set and costumes but features the orchestra onstage with the performers. The NYU Steinhardt vocal performance program has collaborated with the school’s instrumental performance program on the project, which is conducted by David Bloom. The cast features Jade Braithwaite, Noelle DeFelice, Collin Ellsbury, Justine Emerson, Annie Etkin, Mathew Frampton, Chloe Thomas Green, Alexandra Gravina, Liangda Hu, Anna Miley, Eryk Nicolay, Huxley Robb, Amy Wang, James White, Caroline Zager and Elizabeth Zotto.
“If you take the time to look, there is always an opportunity to give. I think we are in a day and age where we’re so numb to all of the misery and all of the horrible things that are happening in the world that we kind of tune off,” Professor Heldman says. “We’re on our phone. We don’t look at people who may be less fortunate than we are. We don’t offer them a seat on the train. We don’t stop to talk to them. We don’t even acknowledge them. And I think the message of ‘Amahl’ is about faith and the kindness that we can all afford each other.”
Owing to the fact that “Amahl” was created in the 1950s, there are various outdated ideas and phrases present in the source material. “The commentary and, specifically, the text of the opera, are a bit archaic,” says Eryk Nicolay, a senior in the vocal performance program who portrays Balthazar, the African King. “Professor Heldman said that if there are any words that you want to change, you definitely can to make it a bit more updated and not so offensive. So navigating some of those [instances] was a bit challenging.”
Despite the “archaic language” present in the piece, Nicolay and the rest of the cast and creative team have found a perfect balance of honoring the work and updating it to appeal to a modern audience. “Professor Heldman has gone to really great lengths in her directing to make all of the kings equal [in their respective representations] and how they contribute to the overarching story, and also the overarching religious morals that are taught in this opera as well,” Nicolay says. “There are still really great messages at the core of this show. And I think that being able to expose them can offer a really beautiful message, especially at this time of the year.”
This production is in collaboration with the charity Toys For Tots. Members of the U.S. Marine Reserve will be here with an empty receptacle bin, so audience members are encouraged to bring an unwrapped gift to the show to donate to a child in need.
“It’s a message that’s timeless,” Heldman says. “It’s about the relationships between people, and the relationships t0 a being greater than them, or nature, or something that is mystical and beyond them.”
“Amahl and the Night Visitors” runs from December 8 through December 10. The show will run for approximately 60 minutes with no intermission. Tickets can be purchased on the NYU Skirball site and are $5.00 for students, staff, and alumni. General admission is $15.00.
Ticket link: https://tickets.nyu.edu/amahl?z=0