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Opera Review (Pasadena): Amahl and the Night Visitors by Gian Carlo Menotti at the Pasadena Playhouse

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As a child I saw on television a Christmas opera by Gian Carlo Menotti. Frankly I didn’t much like it but when the new Intimate Opera of Pasadena announced that they would do Amahl and the Night Visitors as their inaugural production, I was intrigued. I also recognized several of the names involved, including Stephanie Vlahos who is the Artistic Director and the director of this production. I knew Stephanie when she worked at the LA Opera and I appeared (as a glorified extra) with her in Alchina.

The idea behind this company is to provide opera in an intimate setting using artists who reside in the Los Angeles area. This is an adventure for the audience and a great opportunity for artists to perform in their hometowns without having to wander off to Europe for experience. Amahl and the Night Visitors proved a delightful way to launch this endeavour.

Since the opera is only one act long, the renowned Welsh actor Malcolm McDowell also treated us to a sonorous rendering of Dylan Thomas’ A Child’s Christmas in Wales. McDowell sat in a comfortable chair in front of a huge picture window while it snowed. A lovely sight well rendered. Once he was finished he turned to the window and looked out and out of the blizzard appeared the scene for the opera.

The set was modest but thoroughly appropriate for an abode of this poor family. The talented John Iocovelli designed the set. The effective lighting was by Jared A. Sayeg and the costumes, some very elaborate, were by Kate Bergh. Ms. Vlahos directed.

The cast was exemplary, led by the wonderful singer/actress Suzanna Guzman. As the mother who struggles to keep her son and herself surviving, she also showed us a mother who agonizes to teach her son to be honest and truthful in the face of adversity. Her son Amahl, played by a sensitive Leighton Saxby, held his own on the stage with the professionals.

Robin Buck, Cedric Berry, and an over-the-top Greg Fedderly played the three Kings who come from the East following the star of Bethlehem but stop at the humble abode of these poor folks. Members of the Pasadena Master Chorale, dancers Alex Briton, Robert Norman, Nicholas Shelton and Alexandra Schenck, and actor Matthew Brenher make up the rest of the cast. Everyone sang well and the production was a true delight.

The story moved me, as it must have many years ago when I first saw it on television, because I remembered that there was something I did really like and that was the story. This small story of hope and faith, coupled with the remembrance of a Welsh childhood made for a tender and satisfying evening on a holiday evening.

Amahl and the Night Visitors only played Dec 16th-19th at the newly opened Pasadena Playhouse. Let us hope they both prosper.

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