For those inclined to think that Lyric Opera of the North’s production of “Amahl and the Night Visitors," which opened Thursday night at the Masonic Temple, is a Christmas show that should have been scheduled in December, remember that the Adoration of the Magi is celebrated as the Feast of the Epiphany on Jan. 6.
As has been amply publicized, the title role of Amahl is played by Giulia Calland, daughter of LOON’s general artistic directors Sarah Lawrence and Calland Metts. Obviously, substituting a girl soprano for a boy soprano was going to make this “Amahl” sound decidedly different.
Calland creates an Amahl who is such a complete kid. She sings like a kid rather than an opera singer, which actually makes her Amahl more real than most and director Jeffrey Madison takes full advantage of what she brings to the table.
Calland gets plenty of laughs insisting to her mother there are kings knocking on the door and pestering the night visitors with questions (”Are You A Real King?”). But she delivers the dramatic moments equally as well, first with her spirited defense of her mother in “Don’t You Dare!” and then when Amahl decides he should give a gift to the Holy Child as well (“Oh, No, Wait”).
Also developing her character through her singing is Vicki Fingalson as the Mother, who makes “Stop Bothering Me!” and “Amahl, I Told You Not To Be A Nuisance!” work by how she is singing and not just what she is saying. The payoff for this is her soaring notes at the start of “All That Gold,” before lowering the volume and playing up the emotions of the moment.
The three kings make a dramatic entrance that starts in the balcony, proceeding down the stairs and through the audience. Gregory Rahming’s King Balthazar is so kindly answering Amahl’s questions, Metts has fun with the half-deaf King Kaspar as he extols the treasures in his box, and John Pierce’s King Melchior gives “Oh, Woman, You Can Keep That Gold!” a nice emotional weight.
One of the most impressive elements of this production are the shepherd and villagers who come to help entertain the kings. The choral work on “Shepherds! Shepherds!” was simply wonderful, as was how they “oohed” and “aahed” every time dancing shepherd Ryo Munakata lifted his dancing partner Brianna Crockett off of the ground. The choreography by Nikolaus Wourms infused the folk dance with simple charm.
Ann Gumpper’s scenic design is especially stellar, with the Star of Bethlehem high above the stage and stars extending to the ceiling during the night sequence. That is also where Alex Flinner’s lighting of the Mother being tempted by “All That Gold” was particularly effective.
The Masonic Temple is a gorgeous setting for this opera, and provides an intimacy larger venues cannot match, but there are some moments when conductor Dirk Meyer’s 14-piece orchestra overwhelms the singing. Fortunately, these are few and far between, and in the end “Amahl and the Night Visitors” delivers everything you want from this holiday classic.
Lawrance Bernabo is a theater and arts reviewer for the News Tribune.
If you go
What: “Amahl and the Night Visitors” by Gian Carlo Menotti
Where: The Masonic Temple, 4 W. Second St.
When: 3 p.m. Sunday, January 26
Tickets: Start at $32. $12 students and children at loonopera.org.