A star as big as a window.
December 14, 2007 9:04 AM   Subscribe

On December 24th, 1951, NBC aired television's first annual Christmas tradition and the first opera created specifically for TV, Amahl and the Night Visitors, composed by Gian Carlo Menotti (1911 – 2007). Maybe the cast recording, the children's book or one of the hundreds of local performances staged each year have been a staple of one or more of your holiday seasons. If so, you might be pleased to know that a kinescope of the original 1951 broadcast, long assumed lost, has in fact been found, restored, added to the Museum of Television and Radio and (most importantly) put on YouTube.

Menotti interviewed on NPR regarding Amahl and the Night visitors; previously on MeFi.
posted by 2or3whiskeysodas (18 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Menotti may be the least-known of the four two-time Pulitzer winners in music.
posted by Wolfdog at 9:10 AM on December 14, 2007

Maybe I'm just a cultural lunkhead, but I have never even heard of Amahl and the Night Visitors or Gian Carlo Menotti.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 9:13 AM on December 14, 2007

Here's a real conversation that took place between Joe LeSeur and Frank O'Hara (paraphrased, from memory):

JL: Carlo Menotti has offered me a job as his personal assistant, but I don't know if I can do it.
FO: Why not?
JL: Because I don't like his music.
FO: Nobody does. Quit being such a snob.
posted by roll truck roll at 9:37 AM on December 14, 2007

In choir, we sang a song from it:
Emily, Emily, Michael, Bartholomew,
How are your children and how are your sheep?
Dorothy, Dorothy, Peter, Evangeline,
Give me your hand, came along with me.

All the children have mumps,
All the flocks are asleep,
We are going with Amahl,
bringing gifts to the kings.

Benjamin, Benjamin, Lucas, Elizabeth,
How are your children and how are your sheep?
Carolyn, Carolyn, Matthew, Veronica,
Give me your hand come along with me.

Brrrr! How cold is the night.
Brrr! How icy the wind.
Hold me very, very, very tight.
Oh, how warm is your cloak.

Katherine, Katherine, Christopher, Babila,
How are your children and how are your sheep?
Josephine, Josephine, Angela, Jeremy,
Come along with me.
That's right. How are your sheep?
posted by pracowity at 9:56 AM on December 14, 2007

Oh, this makes my day. It's totally worth watching; and it's surprisingly funny.
posted by minervous at 10:04 AM on December 14, 2007

I've been in a production of this. I wish someone would do it live on TV again. 'Have you seen a child' still gives me chills.
posted by nightwood at 10:26 AM on December 14, 2007

I was Amahl in a production of this when I was in fourth grade, and listened to an audio recording of the production for months on end.

This is my box, this is my box, I never travel without my box.....in the second drawer I keep all my beads! Ooooh how I love to play with beads! All kinds of beads!
posted by Lucinda at 11:10 AM on December 14, 2007

We had to watch this in middle school and we probably weren't mature enough for it. My memory (without watching this version):
AMAHL: [high falsetto] I am Ama-ahl!

MOTHER: [deep booming bass] and I am your moth-er!
It still brings a smile to my face. I'm not going to watch and ruin this classic childhood memory by learning the actual dialog or relative pitches.
posted by stopgap at 11:11 AM on December 14, 2007

Looking forward to bookmarking this for viewing later. It was probably on NBC when I was little, but I was more into A Charlie Brown Christmas then.

I'd first learned of it when I first saw a performance of GCM's The Death of the Bishop of Brindisi, a potent work about the Children's Crusade and guilt:

Give me an enemy to kill, O Lord,
But not a child to help!

posted by pax digita at 11:51 AM on December 14, 2007

You had me at "put on YouTube".

Of course, that was at the end. Quit burying the lede!
posted by dhartung at 11:51 AM on December 14, 2007

I'm sort of with Slack-a-gogo, except that I have actually heard of this. However, I have never actually heard it. Any of it. I'm starting to wonder if it's existence is a figment of my paranoid imagination.

I live in the Tommyverse. Where do you live?
posted by lodurr at 1:56 PM on December 14, 2007

Those of you just finding out about Menotti, see if you can scare up a copy of "The Medium."

I much prefer this cd to the movie, but either way it's great.

It's a very accessible, short opera in English about a fake medium who cons people out of their money. Something strange and disturbing happens to her that may or may not be supernatural. It's haunting and beautiful.
posted by grumblebee at 5:05 PM on December 14, 2007

Yes, that eternity that none of the grownups ever watched all afternoon and into the evening on Christmas days in the era of one-channel fuzzy black-and-white tv was the low point of each Christmas...
posted by ronin21 at 5:10 PM on December 14, 2007

Here's a little snippet from "The Medium," containing one of its most beautiful songs: "O, Black Swan."
posted by grumblebee at 5:14 PM on December 14, 2007

I had never heard of this until last week, when I went and saw a local production. I absolutely loved it, especially the "Have You Seen a Child" piece that nightwood mentioned.
posted by arcticwoman at 6:44 PM on December 14, 2007

Last weekend I saw my nephew as Amahl in a production in Boston. Cute story, he had no musical background, his mother, my sister is tone deaf. About this time last year he was waiting for his sister to get out of a violin lesson, and playing notes on a piano and singing them. A woman said "come into my office, little boy," an hour later she pronounced, "I think I've found Amahl." She taught him an hour a day, three times a week, all last year, and voila! he did his part opposite a professional singer in their church production. Two of the queens, I mean kings, were professionals, too. It was quite charming. It seemed well suited for that kind of ambitious amateur production, the orchestration was piano and two oboes.
posted by StickyCarpet at 8:57 PM on December 14, 2007

When I was in the fourth grade, our music teacher told us to watch this (it was going to be on NBC that weekend), that we'd have some kind of test or discussion on it come Monday. I remember sitting in our basement, watching this hideous opera thing and hating every minute of it. No talking, all singing, and really stupid songs, too. I couldn't wait for it to end. Monday at school the teacher asked if we'd watched it, and I was the only one who had! Oh well, she shrugged, no test then or discussion, we'll move on to something else. Grrr. I've never watched Amahl again, so I don't know if my original review was unnecessarily harsh or not.
posted by Oriole Adams at 9:08 PM on December 14, 2007

...and there's a recently released DVD...
posted by deusdiabolus at 7:19 AM on December 16, 2007

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