On Site Opera News: Preview of Amahl and the Night Visitors Performed in NYC Soup Kitchen

When:

Wednesday, December 4 at 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, December 5 at 7:30 p.m.
Friday, December 6 at 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, December 7 at 2:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m.
Sunday, December 8 at 6:00 p.m.

Where:

Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen
Church of Holy Apostles
296 9th Avenue
Chelsea neighborhood, Manhattan

On Site Opera is staging an opera in a soup kitchen?

Yes!  This is the brainchild of On Site Opera (OSU) and there is a very specific reason for choosing a soup kitchen as the venue, which Director Eric Einhorn (EE) explains to Picture this Post (PTP) here. In partnership with Breaking Ground--New York City’s largest provider of permanent supportive housing for the homeless—these performances will feature a chorus made up of community members who have experienced homelessness performing alongside renowned opera soloists and musicians.

On Site Opera AMAHL AND THE NIGHT VISITORS
Eric Einhorn!

(PTP) Why is this opera typically performed this time of year?

(EE) Gian Carlo Menotti originally wrote the opera for NBC television (the first opera commissioned for TV) to be aired on Christmas Eve 1951. The story of the opera centers around the Three Wise Men on their way to visit the baby Jesus.

Can you explain the plot of Amahl and the Night Visitors?

 The Three Wise Men are on their way to visit the newborn baby Jesus. On their journey, they seek shelter at the home of Amahl (a disabled shepherd boy) and his mother. They are both very poor, but they take the men in and offer what they can. The Kings spend the night in their house, along with all of the gifts and riches intended for the Child. Amahl invites the other shepherds in their community to visit with the Kings, who bring offerings for them as well. Later on, while the Kings sleep, Amahl's mother laments her poor fate and that of her disabled son. She steals some of the Kings' gold, but is caught by their Page. As everyone is woken up, Amahl tries to defend his mother. The Kings forgive the Mother, explaining the true nature of the child they are going to visit. Amahl is inspired to offer his crutch as a gift to the child. Upon offering the crutch, Amahl is cured of his disability. He then leaves with the Kings to visit the Child.

On Site Opera AMAHL AND THE NIGHT VISITORS
On Site Opera AMAHL AND THE NIGHT VISITORS

How does this production differ from others?

 This production updates the action to a soup kitchen in New York City. Amahl and his mother are patrons of the soup kitchen, and the Three Kings are portrayed as homeless men on the street seeking shelter for the night. The chorus of shepherds is comprised of amateur singers from the community of Breaking Ground, NYC's largest provider of permanent supportive housing. Many of the chorus members have experienced homelessness themselves. The production aims to examine the power of community and the opportunity for selflessness and generosity regardless of one's situation.

How did you establish your relationship with Breaking Ground and Holy Apostles Church?

We connected with Breaking Ground through one of our founding board members. We were connected with Holy Apostles through an artistic collaborator who had done several dance performances in the church

How did you come up with the idea to include a community choir in this production?

I was incredibly inspired by the work of the Dallas Street Choir, a choir comprised of homeless people in the Dallas, Texas area.  I wanted to see if there was a way for our productions to connect more deeply with the community in a similar way. Could a similar kind of choir be assembled so that people whose lives paralleled the story we were telling be direct participants? By adding community members to the creative forces of the show, the potential impact seemed to expand exponentially.

What has the rehearsal process been like for the community choir?

Since this is our second year working with the community choir, the rehearsals have moved a lot faster. Many singers have returned from last year, so there is a strong base of knowledge. We also have a much clearer idea of what the production is. Last year, we were creating both the choir structure as well as the production for the first time. Everything took a little more time, and we planned accordingly. Michael Ciavaglia, our chorus master, spent many rehearsals (over several months) teaching the music to the choir. I did gradual staging and physical work with the singers as well over the course of the rehearsals in order to build a rapport and a skill set for the choir to use in performance. Our conductor, Geoffrey McDonald then came to rehearsals to tie the whole thing together musically. This process went a lot quicker this year due to a shared knowledge and experience with the production.

On Site Opera AMAHL AND THE NIGHT VISITORS
On Site Opera AMAHL AND THE NIGHT VISITORS

What challenges do you face in an immersive production and how to you overcome then?

There are always challenges with immersive productions in non-traditional spaces. Audience sightlines and acoustics are among the larger issues. We do extensive venue scouting and planning to make sure that we are able to create an audience seating plan that allows for good visibility to all staging areas. This is extra challenging since our immersive productions contain staging that typically happens throughout the space -- both in front of, among, and behind the audience. We do similar vetting with acoustics. If a space is too reverberant, then singer intelligibility and orchestra volume become big issues. There are ways to mitigate those issues (hanging fabric to dampen sound, orchestra placement, etc.), but we have walked away from certain venues when these issues could not be resolved. Our goal is to create an engaging experience for our audiences. If patrons can't see or hear well, then we haven't succeeded on a fundamental level of the process.

What do you hope audiences walk away with after seeing this production?

Our hope is that audiences leave Amahl feeling closer to their own community. Audience members will experience this beautiful score alongside professional artists and community singers from their own neighborhoods. This production highlights the power of generosity, even when we think we have nothing to give, as well as the deep impact of community music-making.

On Site Opera AMAHL AND THE NIGHT VISITORS
On Site Opera AMAHL AND THE NIGHT VISITORS

Amahl and the Night Visitors

Composed by Gian Carlo Menotti
Libretto by Gian Carlo Menotti
Conducted by Geoffrey McDonald
Directed by Eric Einhorn

 

Choreography by Winston Benons, Jr.
Lighting Design by Shawn K. Kaufman of Enlumen
Costumes by Jessica Jahn
Prop design by Syndey Schatz
Hair and Make-Up by Gabrielle Vincent
Stage Manager: Lauren Moriah Stern
Orchestra: American Modern Ensemble

 

CAST

Amahl (Dec 4,6,7 Eve): Devin Zamir Coleman
Amahl (Dec 5, 7 Mat, 8): Benjamin Barham-Wiese
Mother: Aundi Marie Moore
Kaspar: Julius Ahn

Melchoir (Dec 5, 6, 7 Eve, 8): Daniel Belcher
Melchoir (Dec 4, 7 Mat): Joshua Jeremiah
Balthazar: Musa Ngqungwana
The Page: Jonathan R. Green

For more information visit:
On Site Opera website.
Breaking Ground website.
Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen website

Tickets:

$40 - general admission tickets
$25 - standing room
To purchase tickets visit the On Site Opera website

Photos By Pavel Antonov and Julius Ahn

Watch this video previewing Picture This Post's OPERAS WE LOVE - roundup.

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