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A scene from the original 1951 live broadcast of Amahl and The Night Visitors.

Remembering the Great Gian Carlo Menotti at the Christmas Opera

Gian Carlo Menotti was born on July 7, 1911, in Cadegliano, Italy. As a teenager he studied at the Verdi Conservatory in Milano. At the age of 17, he departed for Philadelphia, where he studied composition under Rosario Scalero at the Curtis Institute of Music. He worked actively as opera director, librettist and impresario. In 1958, he founded “Il Festa di Due Mondi” (“The Festival of Two Worlds”) in the Italian city of Spoleto, where annually Italian and American composers, conductors, singers and instrumentalists would meet.

His first big success as an opera author was in 1937, with the one-act comical opera “Amelia Goes to the Ball.” But during the Christmas season, his opera “Amahl and the Night Visitors” brings the great composers work to the forefront.

Menotti usually did not refer to his works as operas, he preferred to call them “plays with music” or “musical dramas.” The libretto and the music in his works are inseparable, as one would expect, given his literary talent. Menotti is among the most often produced opera authors, not only in the U.S., but all over the world. He died on February 1, 2007 in New York.

“Amahl and the Night Visitors” is a one act opera, intended for children. It tells of Amahl, a disabled boy who can walk only with a crutch and has a problem with telling tall tales. While playing his shepherd’s pipe he sees a huge star in the sky over the roof of the home and tells his mother, who does not believe him. Later that night, there is a knock on the door and Amahl finds the Three Kings standing before him. He tells his mother that they have been visited by three splendidly dressed Kings, but again, she does not believe him. Much to her surprise, the Kings enter the home and tell Amahl and his mother they are on a long journey to give gifts to a wondrous child and ask if they may rest at their house. Amahl’s mother agrees and what follows is a story of how the visit changed Amahl’s life forever.

It is a tender and heart-warming story that was commissioned by NBC and first performed by the NBC Opera Theatre on December 24, 1951. It was broadcast live on television as the debut production of the Hallmark Hall of Fame. “Amahl and The Night Visitors” has since become an annual tradition in the U.S. and is one of the most frequently performed operas of the 20th century.