Ash Lawn Opera’s Amahl and the Night Visitors builds community

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Gian Carlo Menotti was inspired by the painting “The Adoration of the Magi,” to create Amahl and the Night Visitors. The opera aired on NBC as a holiday tradition for more than 15 years. Image: KPA/UNITED ARCHIVES/WHA/NEWSCOM Gian Carlo Menotti was inspired by the painting “The Adoration of the Magi,” to create Amahl and the Night Visitors. The opera aired on NBC as a holiday tradition for more than 15 years. Image: KPA/UNITED ARCHIVES/WHA/NEWSCOM

Holiday revival

“The wonderful thing about opera is that it is more than the sum of its parts,” said Kate Tamarkin, music director of the Charlottesville & University Symphony Orchestra (CUSO). Tamarkin, who will be conducting Gian Carlo Minotti’s, Amahl and the Night Visitors for Ash Lawn Opera is part of a bigger picture that defines ALO’s first winter season as consisting of local “parts.”

Where ALO’s summer season showcases imported artists delivering world class opera to Charlottesville, the production of Amahl opens up the magic of opera to a broader base of performers from the surrounding community and to an audience that may be absent over the summer. “We will still import our five principal singers, who are prominent soloists from places like the Metropolitan Opera and San Francisco Opera, but we partner with local groups for the remainder of the performers,” said ALO General Director Michelle Krisel.

The Virginia Consort and Wilson School of Dance are partner arts organizations that provide singers for the chorus and dancers respectively. Educational partners including The Jefferson Madison Regional Library, The Virginia Discovery Museum, and Speak! Language Center, are all hosting children’s programs centered around the opera. Though the CUSO is not formally associated with the production, several of its members will be part of the orchestra under Tamarkin’s direction. “I believe that the more you work with local colleagues, the better Charlottesville does in making Charlottesville a destination for the arts,” Krisel said. Since opera is a multi-tiered art form, it makes sense to be the centerpiece for collaborative efforts.

Financing the project, which must be produced independently of the summer season’s budget, echos the artistic make-up of the production with national and local participation. “ALO is committed to exposing as many people as possible to opera by making it accessible through family appropriate material and keeping ticket prices low,” said Krisel.

Amahl tickets are a fifth the cost of Moscow Ballet’s Great Russian Nutcracker tickets in order to make the opera financially feasible to a wider audience. Low ticket prices for an endeavor of this size means sponsorships are necessary. A grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and generous support from Charlottesville’s own Brown Automotive Group make up the budgetary differences.

In addition to low ticket prices, Krisel has incorporated as many children as possible into Amahl to expose them to the art of opera and to encourage ticket sales. She said,“Putting on Amahl is about building opportunities for artists and audiences…There are about 20 kids in the show.”

Henley Middle School seventh grader Chloe Horner, who will sing the title role, is a seasoned performer at age 12. She is familiar with the workings of opera production after playing Amaryllis in ALO’s production of The Music Man last summer, but is eager to learn more. “It is such an honor to work with these people from such places like the Metropolitan Opera,” she said. “I am really ready to meet them and learn from them.” Horner will sing with some of the principals in an outreach performance of excerpts, free to the community at the Emily Couric Clinical Cancer Center on December 4.

Tiffany Ames and Alice Newkirk, both seniors at Tandem Friends School and part of the Virginia Consort High School Chorus, are learning new skills as they prepare for their roles as shepherdesses. Newkirk says of singing in operatic choral style, “It’s much higher, at least for the sopranos, than normal choral music.” The opportunity is what strikes Ames (2012 winner of the English Speaking Union’s National Shakespeare Competition) the most about the experience. “Being a part of a production of this size and this caliber is really exciting,” she said. “Performing on the Paramount stage will be exhilarating.”

“This is a dream come true for me to be able to expand in this way,” said Krisel. Like Krisel, Amahl, was Tamarkin’s first exposure to opera. She said,“It had a huge effect on me. It was magical. I’m hoping lots of young people will come to see our Amahl and it will transform them too.”

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Amahl and the Night Visitors/Paramount Theater/December 8

 

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