Gian Carlo Menotti's "Amahl and the Night Visitors," the first opera commissioned specifically for television, will get a special screening and panel discussion 6 PM Nov. 30 at The Museum of Television and Radio in New York City, with the 90-year-old composer participating.
The event, "'Amahl' at 50: A Screening and Discussion with Gian Carlo Menotti," is in honor the beloved one-act opera's 50th anniversary. Soprano Rosemary Kuhlmann, who played the role of Amahl's Mother, will also be a panelist. The seminar will be moderated by arts and entertainment writer Eric Myers (author of the recent book, "Uncle Mame: The Life of Patrick Dennis").
The Museum recently acquired a copy of the historic first broadcast of "Amahl and the Night Visitors" (long thought by many fans of the opera to be on the list of "missing" programs). The opera, about a lame shepherd's encounter with the Wise Men who are in search of the baby Jesus, premiered live on NBC on Christmas Eve 1951. According to the museum, the one-act was seen by 5 million viewers and reviewed the following morning on the front page of the New York Times, where music critic Olin Downes praised "a work that few indeed could have seen and heard last night save through blurred eyes and with emotions that were not easy to conceal."
"Amahl" became a holiday tradition, and each Christmas in the 1950s it was telecast live, with three different boys playing Amahl (the premiere featured 12-year-old Chet Allen), and the same cast of adult principals: Rosemary Kuhlmann as the Mother, David Aiken as Melchior, Leon Lishner as Balthazar, Andrew McKinley as Kaspar, and Francis Monachino as the Page.
The Museum recently acquired from the UCLA archives a D2 tape of the 1951 kinescope, thought by many — including Menotti — to be on the "missing" list. Menotti wrote the opera in less than a month. He was commissioned by NBC in 1949, but it wasn't until Thanksgiving Day 1951 that he decided on the title and began to compose it. Menotti's inspiration was the Hieronymus Bosch painting, "The Adoration of the Magi," which brought back memories of his childhood in Italy and the stories he and his brother would tell about the Three Kings (who in Italy play the same role as Santa Claus). "As I was looking at [the painting], suddenly I heard again ... the weird song of the Three Kings.... They had come back to me and brought me a gift," Menotti said to television viewers as he introduced the live broadcast.
"Amahl" was staged annually on NBC and directed each time by television pioneer Kirk Browning (who in 2001 was still directing the arts on television on the famed series "Live from Lincoln Center").
Tickets are $10. The Museum of Television & Radio is located at 25 W. 52nd St. In Manhattan. For information, call (212) 621-6800.
In addition to the Nov. 30 seminar, The Museum of Television and Radio will offer "Amahl" — viewed on a large screen — at its New York City and Los Angeles locations from Dec. 4-9. Call for times: (212) 621-6800 in New York and (310) 786 1000 in Los Angeles.
As the copy is now part of the collection, museumgoers can also view the work in the future, at private consoles.
— By Kenneth Jones