‘Amahl’ singers share real meaning of Christmas

Reviewed by Tony Villecco

This past weekend, the Binghamton University Music Department in collaboration with Tri-Cities Opera produced a lovely adaptation of Gian Carlo Menotti’s one-act seasonal masterpiece, Amahl and the Night Visitors. Performances were Saturday and Sunday (Dec. 11 and 12) in the Anderson Center’s Chamber Hall.

Forgive this reviewers bent to sentimentality, but I know this opera well. As a 9-year-old, I played Amahl with Tri-Cities Opera, and the magical score and moving story are as poignant to me now as they were when I was a child.

From the quiet and moody brief overture (with some excellent oboe playing by John Lathwell) to the opera’s final chords, one is quick to realize the genius of Menotti in crafting beautiful, singable music while moving an audience with his deep conviction of the birth of Christ and how, for one small boy, a Christmas miracle comes to be.

Matthew Goodheart made a sweet Amahl with his pretty boy soprano though some of his words were lost. Nonetheless, he delineated the young boy’s need to daydream with tales of wonder, in order to cope with his physical misfortune.

Hilerie Klein-Rensi was quite wonderful as the poor and struggling mother who wishes she could make a better life for her son. Klein-Rensi has a warm and rich mezzo with strength at both ends of her vocal registers. She is also a fine actress and, in addition to her committed singing, created a sympathetic character as well.

The three kings portrayed by baritone Jan Kliewer as Balthazar, tenor Brister Hay as Kaspar and bass-baritone William Roberts as Melchior. Each had his own fine moment and also blended well in the kings’ ensemble work. As usual, Roberts was vocally the strongest and made the most of a basically limited role.

Peter Bush was the poor page who takes a good smacking from Amahl. Special mention must be made of the most impressive solo dancers, Ben Elling and Amanda Thomas. The solid chorus was energetic and vocally fine, having been drilled diligently by John Isenberg, a multi-task musical “jack of all trades.”

BU’s Timothy Perry did a commendable job of conducting; working to keep the pace as well as managing to stay in close collaboration with the singers. The small orchestra played the lovely score with aplomb, utilizing both professional musicians and students.

Director Thomas Goodheart provided some nice touches, especially the conclusion when Amahl’s mother clutches the boy’s doll at the realization that she is now alone while her son is going to meet the Christ Child.

Joe Beck created some beautiful stage lighting while the effective set and costumes were presumably were loan outs from the opera company. Forget Rudolph and Santa and Frosty; this was a holiday performance that showed what the season is really about.

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