Amahl

More traditional holiday events: the broadcasting of Amahl and the Night Visitors on WQXR last night. Aside from the touching story and the music, there are two personal connections for me.

From Wikipedia:

Amahl and the Night Visitors is an opera in one act by Gian Carlo Menotti with an original English libretto by the composer. It was commissioned by NBC and first performed by the NBC Opera Theatre on December 24, 1951, in New York City at NBC studio 8H in Rockefeller Center, the same studio where it was broadcast live on television from that venue as the debut production of the Hallmark Hall of Fame. It was the first opera specifically composed for television in America.

A synopsis, compressed from Wikipedia:

Amahl, a disabled boy who can walk only with a crutch, has a problem with telling tall tales. His mother does not believe him when he tells her there is an amazing star “as big as a window” outside over their roof

After bedtime, there is a knock at the door. Amahl is amazed when he sees three splendidly dressed kings (the Magi), one of whom is black. The Three Kings tell the mother and Amahl they are on a long journey to give gifts to a wondrous Child and they would like to rest at their house. Amahl seizes the opportunity to speak with the kings. King Balthazar answers Amahl’s questions about his life as a king and asks what Amahl does. Amahl responds that he was once a shepherd, but his mother had to sell his sheep. Now, he and his mother will have to go begging. Amahl then talks with King Kaspar, who is childlike, eccentric, and a bit deaf. Kaspar shows Amahl his box of magic stones, beads, and licorice.

The mother attempts to steal for her son some of the kings’ gold that was meant for the Christ child. She is thwarted by the kings’ page. When Amahl wakes to find the page grabbing his mother, he attacks him. Seeing Amahl’s defense of his mother and understanding the motives for the attempted theft, King Melchior says she may keep the gold as the Holy Child will not need earthly power or wealth to build his kingdom. The mother says she has waited all her life for such a king and asks the kings to take back the gold. She wishes to send a gift but has nothing to send. Amahl, too, has nothing to give the Child except his crutch. When he offers it to the kings, his leg is miraculously healed. With permission from his mother, he leaves with the kings to see the Child and give his crutch in thanks for being healed.

First connection: King Melchior. The crucial contribution from the kings is Melchior’s. And I am Arnold Melchior Zwicky, son of a previous Arnold Melchior Zwicky and grandson of Melchior Arnold Zwicky, who had brothers named Kaspar and Balthazar (a bit of whimsical religiosity by my great-grandmother).

The gay connection. Then on Menotti, from a different Wikipedia article:

Gian Carlo Menotti (… July 7, 1911 – February 1, 2007) was an Italian-American composer and librettist. Although he often referred to himself as an American composer, he kept his Italian citizenship. He wrote the classic Christmas opera Amahl and the Night Visitors [the opera was such a success that the broadcasting of Amahl and the Night Visitors became an annual Christmas tradition], along with over two dozen other operas intended to appeal to popular taste.

He won the Pulitzer Prize twice, for The Consul (1950) and for The Saint of Bleecker Street (1955).

… Armed with a letter of introduction from the wife of Arturo Toscanini, Gian Carlo studied composition at [Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music] under Rosario Scalero. Fellow students at Curtis included Leonard Bernstein and Samuel Barber.

Barber became Menotti’s partner in life and in work, with Menotti crafting the libretto for Barber’s most famous opera, Vanessa, which premiered at the Metropolitan Opera in 1958. As a student, Menotti spent much of his time with the Samuel Barber family in West Chester, Pennsylvania. After graduation, the two men bought a house together in Mount Kisco, New York, which they named “Capricorn” and shared for over forty years.

One of many partnerships of gay men in the arts.

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