Amahl and the Night Visitors was a revelation to me. I don’t know how I have survived so many decades without once seeing this charming one-act children’s opera, which is performed about 500 times a year around the world. With humour and humanity, it tells the story of a lame shepherd boy and his destitute mother, whose lives are transformed by a visit from the Three Kings en route to Bethlehem.
Opera Anywhere’s production was the most gloriously successful partnership of professional and amateur, young and old, experienced and novice, one could possibly imagine. It brought together its own touring singers with the local Isis Chamber Orchestra and members of Rye St Antony school to create a seamless and spellbinding sixty minutes of theatre. From the moment the lights went down on the simple but perfect ragged-rugged set and the dancer (Lucy Embers) with the most beautifully starlit costume I have ever seen winged her way across the stage, the entire audience (aged, literally, from 3 to 93) was utterly enthralled.
Fifteen-year-old Francesca Hotson stole the show with her enchanting pitch-perfect performance as the shepherd boy, lame in leg but lively in spirit, curious and quizzical, like a boy-Alice in a world naturally full of wonders. David Jones and Peter Lidbetter gave us their Melchior and Balthazar in appropriate solemn, magnanimous tone, and Mike Woodward was both hilarious and endearing as the aged Kaspar in his second childhood, with his ear trumpet and his box of treasures. Serenna Wagner delivered the desperate mother with full-throated power, amid the deliciously light touch of the other principals. The acting was superb from every single cast member, from the pages fanning the embers of the cold fire into flame to the chorus of shepherds greeting the Kings, and the orchestra (complete with harp, and comprising musicians apparently from pre-GCSE to post-retirement) did a splendid job from start to finish.
This show brought the spirit of Christmas alive for me again in a way my jaded bones weren’t expecting this year, and for that I thank Opera Anywhere, the cast, chorus, orchestra, and Menotti himself, most heartily.