Amahl and the Night Visitors
Amahl and the Night Visitors was composed by Gian Carlo Menotti in 1951 and it was first shown on TV on Christmas Eve, December 24, 1951. Amahl was the first opera to be composed for television in the United States. The opera is one act long and it tells the story of a young boy who meets the three kings on the night that Jesus is born.
Amahl is a young boy who is always getting in trouble for telling stories and sometimes even lies. Amahl has a problem with his leg so he needs a crutch to walk. Amahl lives with his mother and they are very poor.
When the opera starts, Amahl is sitting outside playing his shepherd's pipe, his mother calls for him to come inside. Amahl doesn't listen to his mom but when he finally comes inside he tells her that there is a giant star rising high in the sky above their house. Of course, she doesn't believe him and tells him to stop bothering her.
Amahl's mother is very worried about him and she prays that they won't have to turn to a life of begging. She and Amahl both go to sleep. Suddenly, there's a knock at the door. Amahl's mother shouts for Amahl to answer it. Amahl opens the door, and discovers that there are three kings at there. Amahl knows that he has a problem and that his mother will never believe him so he shuts the door. Eventually Amahl's mother goes to the door and sees that there really ARE three kings there (they are known as the Magi)! The kings tell her that they have traveled a long distance to deliver gifts to a child of great wonders (the baby Jesus). The kings ask if they can rest in Amahl's home and his mother invites them in, even though she is poor and doesn't have much to offer them.
Amahl's mother goes to get firewood and Amahl uses the time to ask the kings about their lives and kingdoms. The kings answer his questions and then they ask him about his life. Amahl tells them that he used to be a shepherd, but after some bad things happened his mother had to sell all their sheep. Now they are poor and he's afraid that they'll have to turn to begging to survive.
The kings show Amahl their treasures that they have brought to give to baby Jesus. When Amahl's mother returns Amahl tells her all about the kings and she yells at him to not be a nuisance! She sends him out to bring back their neighbors so that they can entertain the kings. The neighbors return and there is a party with dancing.
Later that night, after everyone has left, the three kings go to sleep. Amahl's mother sneaks over to the treasure boxes to take a few gold coins for her and her son. Just as she's about to take the coins the kings' servant wakes up and calls out for help to catch the thief. Amahl is woken up by the commotion and rushes in to protect his mother. The kings realize that Amahl's mother is only trying to take care of her son and tell her that she can keep the gold.
The kings tell the mother that Jesus will not need all gold to build his kingdom. Amahl's mother feels so bad for having taken the gold that she gives it back to the kings to bring to the baby Jesus and even offers to give a gift of her own. Then she realizes that sadly, she has nothing to give. Amahl says that he wants to send a gift and he gives the kings his most valuable possession - his crutch. As soon as he shows selflessness by giving the kings his crutch, a miracle happens and Amahl's leg is healed. With his mother's permission, Amahl travels with the kings to see the baby Jesus and to give him his crutch in thanks for healing his leg.
Amahl is an amazingly accessible opera for kids. It's relatively short, it's in English and the libretto is in kid friendly language since it was actually written for children. The subject is religious and not all students will be familiar with the story of the birth of Jesus. When I introduce the opera I tell my students that some people believe in this story as part of their religion and some people don't. It's fine to have your beliefs and to discuss those beliefs with your family. I have taught this opera many times to children from over 50 different countries and I've never had a problem. Click here to see the full libretto.
Here are two performances of the opera. The first is the original with an introduction by Menotti himself.