in: Reviews

December 11, 2010

Boston Metro Opera’s Amahl Homespun, Pure

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I completely enjoyed Boston Metro Opera’s presentation of Amahl and the Night Visitors. Gian Carlo Menotti’s 40-minute made-for-television opera from the 1950s came to real life in the hands of young singers, a number of whom are currently working on their college or conservatory degrees. It all felt and sounded American, Yankee ingenuity playing its role also. Two spotlights in the rear balcony of Hope Central Church in Jamaica Plain, a few screens to hide the church’s altar, simple costumes, minimal — and I do mean minimal — theatrical paraphernalia, and a piano sufficed. Oddly, these “limitations” seemed to allow, even encourage, the singers to be themselves. This young group came up with something homespun and unassuming, something with certain pureness. Bravo! Rather should I say, “Hooray!”

Never having heard the BMO before, I went to the Friday night performance taking up its website invitation, “Come celebrate the season with two holiday favorites: Gian Carlo Menotti’s Amahl and the Night Visitors and David Conte’s The Gift of the Magi,” (December 10 and 11 at 7:00). I was the piano accompanist for my own high school’s presentations of Amahl more than a few years ago, and I really wanted to check out BMO’s ideas.

Wesley Chu absolutely flew away with the piano version, which, incidentally, I think is far more relevant in a presentation such as this than the orchestrated original. By the way, Chu was not at a concert grand, yet the sound of the smaller instrument combined well with the resonant acoustics of Hope Central Church. He caught the spirit of this Christmas opera, and his playing was wonderfully colorful and image-evoking.

It was a youthful presentation — and by this I do not intend anything but how welcome and refreshing that can be. Naturalness in Kristen Abaquin’s boyish voice as Amahl was just right. She drew me into the story with her unwavering conviction and purity of voice. For me, she was quite an Amahl, innocent, quick, and resilient. Angeliki Theoharis, the mother, Americanized her role, too, through a directness not marred by operatic posturing. She could be stern, tender in ways we know mothers to be. Her more mature singing filled the sanctuary as in “All that gold” where you could actually physically feel the voice’s vibrations.

The three wise men (Christopher Aaron Smith, Stewart Kramer, and Jeremy Collier) entered by processing down the aisle in highly tuned harmony. Their delightfully low-key teases were right on, Kings that might have come right down to the church in JP, say, from Beacon Hill — they wore black shirts and trousers and gold crowns a bit more rich looking than those seen in newspaper and television ads. Tucker Williams was a concerned page adding another neat detail to this presentation. The acoustics of the room warmed all of the singing. At the end, when Amahl hugged his mother good-bye, I must say I had a tear in my eye. BMO’s touching Amahl hit close to home. Stage and musical direction was that of Chris Cordosi.

I wish they could do more performances of the Menotti to celebrate Christmas — but alone. Curiously billed as a “holiday favorite” along with the Amahl one-act opera was David Conte’s four-scene operatic account of O. Henry’s The Gift of the Magi. This was my first encounter with the latter. I would recommend that more of you come and see BMO’s Amahl, but I don’t believe that the Conte work, a bit ponderous, would interest many. Lyric soprano Lindsay Conrad joined tenor Smith in making a today-type American couple sound as though they were in my living room, their very attractive singing could have been on my DVD. The same could be said of Stewart Kramer’s somewhat deliciously reticent performance.

David Patterson, Professor of Music and former Chairman of the Performing Arts Department at UMass Boston, was recipient of a Fulbright Scholar Award and the Chancellor’s Distinction in  Teaching Award. He studied with Nadia Boulanger and Olivier Messiaen in Paris and holds a PhD from Harvard University. www.notescape.net
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