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Outside, three men in exotic dress arrive at the hut. One of them knocks, and Amahl is astonished to find Three Kings on his doorstep: Kaspar, the oldest is carrying a chalice of myrrh; Melchior is carrying a coffer of gold; and Balthazar, who is African, is carrying an urn of frankincense. Amahl's mother invites them into their hut. The Magi explain that they are following a bright star to a Child, for whom they have brought gifts. Shepherds arrive with food for the royal guests and soon, the weary kings go to sleep.
Amahl's mother lies awake staring at the king's gold. Furious that these kings would give their riches to a child they have never seen while her own son goes hungry, she takes some of it. Her hand is seized by the kings' servant whose cries of "thief!" wake the hut. Amahl begs the kings to release his mother. Melchior calmly tells her to keep the gold: "The Child we seek doesn't need our gold. On love, on love alone He will build his Kingdom." The mother spills all she has taken on the rug, saying that she has waited all her life for such a king and would give him a gift herself if she could. Amahl offers his handmade crutch as a gift for the Child, and without thinking holds it out to the kings and steps forward. He can walk.
The kings recognize that he has been blessed and soon Amahl, his mother, and the Magi set out with their gifts to find the Child.
Dobson, Maxwell, Watson, Haywood, cond. David Syrus
Orch. & Chorus Royal Opera House, Entertainment/Jay Records (1 disc)
This more recent recording, based on performances at Covet Garden, features much cleaner recorded sound than the original recording (which will be a plus to many listeners), as well as some truly fine performances from the mostly British cast. There is some uncertain intonation in some of the ensembles and in the orchestra brass, but is still a fine account of Menotti's score.
Kuhlmann, Allen, McKinley, Aiken, Lishner, cond. Thomas Schippers
Orch. & Chorus NBC Symphony, RCA (1 disc)
The first opera ever commissioned for television, Amahl & the Night Visitors was first performed by the NBC Television Theater on Christmas Eve, 1951. This recording, under the composer's personal direction, was made a few days later. It remains the definitive version, even though the sound is rather dated and rough in places. The young Chet Allen sings beautifully as Amahl, and the excellent cast is well supported under the baton of Maestro Schippers. For those lucky enough to have seen the original TV broadcasts (NBC's master tape was lost years ago and feared destroyed), this disc will bring back great memories. For everyone else, it's a great introduction to the piece.
For the full list of recommended recordings for this and other operas visit Chad's Choice.
The Italian-born, American composer, Gian-Carlo Menotti is remembered as one of contemporary opera's most popular composers and librettists. Born in Cadegliano, Italy, Menotti expressed his gift for composition early on. At the age of 11, the young Menotti had already written the libretto and music for his first opera The Death of Pierrot. Menotti studied at the Milan Conservatory until the father's death when he and his mother emigrated to the United States. He enrolled at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia to finish his studies.
He gained fame as a composer with Amelia al Ballo (1937), which received performances at the Met. Some of his most well-known operas include The Old Maid & the Thief (1939), The Medium (1946), The Telephone (1947), The Consul (1950), and The Saint of Bleeker Street (1954). In 1951, Amahl & the Night Visitors became the first opera ever commissioned for TV and it premiered Christmas Eve on NBC and was repeated every year until the print was lost.
In 1958, Menotti founded the Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto, Italy. The success of the popular, all-encompassing arts event led him to found an American version in 1977—the Spoleto Festival in Charleston, SC.
In 1984, Menotti was awarded the Kennedy Center Honor for achievements in the arts, and in 1991 he was chosen as Musical America's "Musician of the Year." He died February 1, 2007 in Mote Carlo, Monaco at the age of 95.