|Aundi Marie Moore, Benjamin Barham Wiese, Jonathan R, Green, Julius Ahn, Daniel Belcher, and Musa Ngqungwana|
We have written a great deal about On Site Opera and their special niche on Planet Opera, always finding the perfect location to present an opera; it is not out of the question that the place itself might in fact inspire the choice of an opera. In either case, the Holy Apostles Church soup kitchen was the perfect place to present a unique slant on Gian Carlo Menotti's one-act opera Amahl and the Night Visitors.
It was the first opera commissioned for television by NBC in 1951. Menotti wrote the score, his partner Samuel Barber completed the orchestration, and Maestro Geoffrey McDonald brought the score to vivid life with musicians of the American Modern Ensemble. The music is tuneful and Maestro McDonald was in full command of his chamber orchestra.
There are operas whose time and place must be kept intact to seem valid; this one translated very well into contemporary times and also succeeded in calling attention to what is commonly called the "Christmas Spirit"--dealing with the rewards for unselfishness and forgiveness.
In this case, a homeless mother (Aundi Marie Moore) and her son (Benjamin Barham Wiese) interact realistically over his tendency to tell tall tales and her tendency to call him on it. He sees the star in the sky and the Wise Men at the door. Although the family has nothing to speak of, they do their best to provide for the travelers. The boy is crippled and using a crutch which he offers to send to the newborn King. He is thereby healed and able to walk.
An advantage we had over others is that we have never had a television and consequently were totally unfamiliar with the work. Consequently, we had no expectations of shepherds and sheep and were able to immerse ourselves in the story as Director Eric Einhorn so admirably presented it. The Three Kings appeared as homeless men pushing shopping carts. Clearly, their nobility resides in their generosity, not in their material wealth.
There were several moments that touched us deeply, especially when the boy defends his mother from the security officer (Jonathan R. Green) who is arresting her for stealing gold from the Kings. This did not exactly add up because one doesn't expect the homeless to be carrying gold! But this is a myth and we were able to accept the inconsistency.
We loved the moments when Kaspar (tenor Julius Ahn) sings about his magic box which contains beads and stones. His voice was particularly well-balanced with that of bass Musa Ngqungwana (as Kaspar) and baritone Daniel Belcher (as Melchior).
We also loved the dancing, choreographed by Winston A. Benons Jr. The dancers exhibited such spontaneity and gusto that we were swept along by the simple unpretentious movements.
The chorus comprised a group of folks who had experienced homelessness and were clients of Breaking Ground, an organization that establishes permanent supportive housing for the homeless; their fine singing, led by Michael A. Ciavaglia, sounded totally professional. Jessica Jahn's costumes were appropriate and rather fanciful for the Kings.
The singing was at the highest level and met all the musical demands of the score; the acting was similarly convincing and believable.
Everything we have written is about the artistic merits of the production. We would like to add some opinions about the social merits. It was a great idea to ask audience member to contribute some non-perishable food. This called attention to the fact that we were in a soup kitchen and there are people who need to be fed. The entire experience elevated the homeless beyond the level of societal outcasts and led us to see them as folks who are simply down on their luck.
By a strange coincidence we had just the night before read a contribution on Quora about what it is like to be homeless. Our awareness has been raised. We found ourself with tears streaming down our face. We glanced at our guest for the evening who was also weeping, as was the woman next to her.
That art should have such a profound effect on us is a wonderful thing. Too many times have we exited the Met thinking "that role was well sung" and forgotten the entire performance within the hour.
We loved seeing art performing what we think it capable of. It should hold a mirror up to society to show us what we are missing in everyday life. Bravo to On Site Opera for taking risks.
The opera was performed last year and we hope it will be scheduled again for next year.
© meche kroop