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December 6, 1991 

Music and Libretto by
Gian Carlo Menotti (1911-2007)

Amahl and the Night Visitors

An Opera in One Act

The Story

Amahl and the Night Visitors tells a simple tale of a crippled boy and his mother. They live in poverty among shepherds. One night the Three Kings, on their way to Bethlehem to pay homage to the newborn Christ Child, stop for shelter at the rude hut where Amahl and his mother live. They are given hospitality and are entertained by the neighboring shepherds. The Mother envies the gold and other splendid gifts being brought to this Child the Kings do not even know. In the early dawn she steals some of the gold and is caught. When she explains to the Kings that she needs it for her starving child she is forgiven. Then they tell her about their Child and the new light He will bring into the world and the kingdom He will build. The poor widow repents and returns the gold. Amahl, in a gesture of innocent generosity, offers his crutch -- his most valued possession -- as a gift to the Child. In doing so he is miraculously cured of his lameness, and he is allowed to follow the Kings to Bethlehem to give thanks to the Christ Child.

About the Music
by Gian Carlo Menotti, Composer

This is an opera for children because it tries to recapture my own childhood. You see, when I was a child I lived in Italy, and in Italy we have no Santa Claus. I suppose that Santa Claus is much too busy with American children to be able to handle Italian children as well. Our gifts were brought to us by the Three Kings, instead.

I actually never met the Three Kings -- it didn't matter how hard my little brother and I tried to keep awake at night to catch a glimpse of the Three Royal Visitors, we would always fall asleep just before they arrived. But I do remember hearing them. I remember the weird cadence of their song in the dark distance; I remember the brittle sound of the camels' hooves crushing the frozen snow; and I remember the mysterious tinkling of their silver bridles.

My favorite king was King Melchior, because he was the oldest and had a long white beard.  My brother's favorite was King Kaspar. He insisted that this king was a little crazy and quite deaf.  I don't know why he was so positive about his being deaf; I suspect it was because dear King Kaspar never brought him all the gifts he requested. He was also rather puzzled by the fact that King Kaspar carried the myrrh, which appeared to him as a rather eccentric gift, for he never quite understood what the word meant.

To these Three Kings I mainly owe the happy Christmas seasons of my childhood, and I should have remained very grateful to them. Instead, I came to America and soon forgot all about them, for here at Christmastime one sees so many Santa Clauses scattered all over town. Then there is the big Christmas tree in Rockefeller Plaza, the elaborate toy windows on Fifth Avenue, the one-hundred-voice choir in Grand Central Station, the innumerable Christmas carols on radio and television -- and all these things made me forget the three dear old Kings of my own childhood.

But in 1951 I found myself in serious difficulty. I had been commissioned by the National Broadcasting Company to write an opera for television, with Christmas as a deadline, and I simply didn't have one idea in my head. One November afternoon as I was walking rather gloomily through the rooms of the Metropolitan Museum, I chanced to stop in front of the Adoration of the Kings by Hieronymus Bosch, and as I was looking at it, suddenly I heard again, coming from the distant blue hills, the weird song of the Three Kings. I then realized they had come back to me and had brought me a gift.

The composer's comments are excerpted from The Genesis of 'Amahl', liner notes that appear on RCA recordings of the work, VIC-1512 and LSC-2762.

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Program notes by Linda Mack. Copyright 1991.
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