When Gian Carlo Menotti wrote “Amahl and the Night Visitors,” he included in the production notes that the title role would always be performed by a boy — never a woman dressed as a child.

Nearly 70 years later, Menotti has been overruled by Giulia “Gigi” Calland.

“As soon as (‘Amahl’) was on the docket, she said, ‘Is this the one where I’ll be Amahl?” reported her mother, Sarah Lawrence, who co-runs Lyric Opera of the North with her husband, Calland Metts.

Earlier this week, the cast moved into the Masonic Temple Theater to rehearse the 50-minute, family-friendly opera — the story of a poor, young, fanciful boy who spots a star and has a run-in with the three kings of biblical fame.

Amahl's mother (Vicki Fingalson) begs her son (Giulia Calland) to come inside the house in the opening scenes of "Amahl and the Night Visitors " during rehearsal at the Masonic Temple Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)
Amahl's mother (Vicki Fingalson) begs her son (Giulia Calland) to come inside the house in the opening scenes of "Amahl and the Night Visitors " during rehearsal at the Masonic Temple Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)

And there was Gigi, 8: freshly bobbed hair and a commitment to the character’s required limp.

Lyric Opera of the North’s “Amahl and the Night Visitors” is at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 24 and 3 p.m. Jan. 26 at the Masonic Temple. Tickets available at loonopera.org.

Gigi has grown up in, on, around and behind stages from here to wherever her mother, a soprano, or father, a tenor, are performing — whether it’s as a baby, passed to Lawrence between scenes of “The Mikado” in Omaha, or a day hanging out in the scenery shop with her father.

“I have been to many rehearsals, starting when I was, well, zero,” she said. “I’ve just always grown up with it. I have seen so much and so many different kinds of opera and music in general. It’s very fun to learn about.”

As she has grown into kid-dom, she has landed on LOON’s stage. She was the littlest immigrant during “Les Uncomfortables,” young Adina during the overture of “Elixir of Love,” and she performed “Gary, Indiana” at the company’s summer event.

And sometimes she fills in on the business side. She has spoken during fundraisers and: “She takes notes during our board meetings,” Lawrence said. “Illustrated notes.”

Her mother likens it to any other child involved with the family business: working the cash register, farm chores, playing Amahl.

From left: King Balthazar (Gregory Rahming), King Melchior (John Pierce), Amahl (Giulia Calland) and King Kasper (Calland Metts) rehearse scenes from "Amahl and the Night Visitors " at the Masonic Temple Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)
From left: King Balthazar (Gregory Rahming), King Melchior (John Pierce), Amahl (Giulia Calland) and King Kasper (Calland Metts) rehearse scenes from "Amahl and the Night Visitors " at the Masonic Temple Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)

The littlest LOON

Gigi takes ballet and piano lessons. She enjoys sketching and painting, she said, music and gardening. Sometimes she sings so loudly that she hurts her parents' ears, she confessed.

She describes herself as an artist.

Her life, she said, is very, very special and very fun.

“I get to have all this fun singing and acting and getting to know all these cool people. It’s fun to have this beautiful place to perform in,” Gigi said.

Ask her if she loves opera, and she gets a dreamy look.

"It is one of my favorite things," she said. "I love music so much, and I like it because there's so many different ways to really describe the story that you're trying to tell. And usually it's in a different language, and I like trying to guess what they're trying to say by the costumes they wear, the set that's around them. I can tell if it's sad or happy by the music. I just love it."

A recent midday rehearsal found Gigi on a stage with performers who have known her since birth. Vicky Fingalson, her godmother, is in the role of her mother; Metts, her father, is King Kaspar. Jeffrey Madison, her godfather, is stage director, and Dirk Meyer, the music director, is a close family friend.

“This one does feel like family,” Madison said. “Like you’re doing it in the basement at grandma’s house.”

When Meyer called Gigi over to go over a musical cue, she stayed physically in character, hopping to him on one foot with a homemade crutch beneath her arm.

During the quick break, Metts said that the director had just asked him if he was beaming with pride while watching his daughter.

“Pride and relief — relief that she’s pretty good,” he said.

Madison said that Gigi takes direction and immediately applies it. He has been in “Amahl” four times as an actor, he said, and appreciates her preparedness.

“She knows this music and knows it as well as anyone on stage,” he said.

When Amahl discovers that his leg has healed and that he doesn’t need his crutch, Gigi steps gingerly, then more confidently toward the front of the stage before turning to her mother. It's a goose-bump inducing moment.

“Because I’ve known Gigi forever, I have to stay on task so I don’t cry too much,” Fingalson said. “I have a job to do.”

The actors and symphony rehearse scenes from "Amahl and the Night Visitors " at the Masonic Temple Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)
The actors and symphony rehearse scenes from "Amahl and the Night Visitors " at the Masonic Temple Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)

LOON and 'Amahl'

When Lyric Opera of the North first produced “Amahl and the Night Visitors” in 2010, it marked the return of the local opera company under new creative leadership. Founder Ruth Jacobson, then living and teaching in Las Vegas, had died earlier in the year. Under Jacobson, the nonprofit had produced “A Die Fledermaus Opera Gala,” “Magic Flute,” “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and more.

“Amahl and the Night Visitors,” originally created in the 1950s as a holiday made-for-TV event, is short and sung in English. The production synched with the reborn company’s plans to create accessible work by using local talent — just like their predecessor. They staged it again in 2012.

Fingalson said she appreciates “Amahl” for its message of hope, generosity and love — and the music.

“I love (the music) more every time I hear it,” she said. “It strengthens the story in some extraordinary ways.”

For Madison, the opera has historical importance as this modern-day piece with a modern telling. He considers it Menotti’s best writing. And the message of community is widely applicable — whether it’s a small town or a neighborhood in New York City.

“I really think people can grab that right away,” he said.

It has grabbed Gigi, who describes “Amahl and the Night Visitors” as her favorite opera. Although:

“The one that we’re working on is the one that is my favorite at the time,” she said.

If you go

Lyric Opera of the North’s “Amahl and the Night Visitors” is at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 24 and 3 p.m. Jan. 26 at the Masonic Temple. Tickets available at loonopera.org.