This weekend sees a first for me: Usually I’m the one watching and writing about local opera, but this Saturday and Sunday I’m in one. It’s “Amahl and the Night Visitors,” the sweet-and-short opera by Gian-Carlo Menotti about the Three Kings of the Christmas story; and the production is at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Tacoma, featuring members and a director from Tacoma Opera as well as church singers.
Don’t expect to see me on stage, though – my voice isn’t that good. No, I’ll be accompanying on piano, along with a harpist. It isn’t the first opera I’ve played for by any measure – my former career was playing double bass for symphony and opera orchestras – but it’s my first in Tacoma.
And the other first for me is seeing my two kids singing in an opera: my son in the children’s chorus, and my daughter in the lead role of Amahl.
“Amahl” was the first opera written just for TV, in 1951, and as such it’s very approachable for those of us who can’t sit through Verdi or Wagner. Just 50 minutes long, its music is modern yet sweet and tonal, with harmonious duets and witty humor. It tells (in English) the story of the Three Kings from the point of view of a poor crippled shepherd boy, Amahl, who gets a visit from the kings as they make their way to Bethlehem.
Because it’s not too demanding or long, churches and community groups often perform “Amahl” at this time of year, although ours is the only one I know of locally this Epiphany. Staged in a church hall with the church choir as chorus it’s obviously not a professional production, but it does feature three Tacoma Opera veterans as the Kings: baritone Barry Johnson (who also directs), bass Brian Trunk and tenor Dave Olson. Alice Hawthorne sings the Mother. And in case you’re wondering why a girl would be singing Amahl, it’s a common casting decision, as the voice-types are so similar. We’ll just have to make sure all her hair stays up under the shepherd cap…
“Amahl and the Night Visitors” plays at 3 p.m. Jan. 7 and noon Jan. 8. Free; donation accepted. St. Luke’s Episcopal Church hall, 3615 N. Gove St., Tacoma. 253- 759-3534, www.stlukestacoma.org