News Column

Viterbo to stage holiday opera

November 24, 2013


Nov. 24--In an era where the holidays are increasingly marked by coupons and credit cards, it's easy to forget the purpose of all the madness -- giving and generosity.

These two themes are at the forefront of Viterbo University music department's production of "Amahl and the Night Visitors," an operatic retelling of the traditional Christmas story.

Written and composed by Gian Carlo Menotti in 1951, "Amahl and the Night Visitors" was the first opera created specifically for television. The two central characters are a mischievous young boy named Amahl and his mother, a pair who have fallen on hard times.

The story begins one cold winter night, when Amahl and his mother receive a surprise visit from three mysterious kings in need of directions. This meeting sparks a chain reaction that changes everything, both for the characters and for all humankind.

Although the opera is theatrical, it differs from theater in a number of ways, the most obvious being that all the dialogue is sung.

"Theater and opera have a lot in common, but they do come from different traditions," said stage manager Liz Stauble, a junior at Viterbo who is studying theater.

Stage director Diana Cataldi says that, despite the show's televised origin, Viterbo's production will be a traditional opera. "The only thing that's different is the set changes," she said.

Cataldi and her fellow Viterbo professor, David Richardson, have collaborated on this production, with Richardson in charge of the musical element, and Cataldi focusing on character and movement.

"Because all of the dialogue is sung, it's sometimes easy to lose the character on the long phrases," she said.

Though the show offers many important lessons, it doesn't sacrifice the entertainment factor.

"(Menotti) has created a lot of really fun characters," Cataldi said. "All the kings are really quirky and have their own distinct personalities. Amahl's a great character, too, very much the curious, kind of rebellious kid."

The cast is mainly Viterbo music students, but the show also calls for child performers. The role of Amahl is written for a boy soprano, and two young performers will play the role, one on each night.

Isaac Burge, an eighth-grader at Holmen Middle School, will play Amahl on Saturday night's performance. He says he likes working with Viterbo's experienced vocalists, who he says have taught him a lot.

He is no stranger to the Viterbo Fine Arts Center himself, where he comes for lessons on the cello, oboe, tenor sax, piano and voice. He also sings with the La Crosse Boychoir.

"Music has been a part of my life since forever," he said.

This is Burge's first opera, and he was previously a chorus member in Viterbo's production of "Hansel and Gretel."

The diversity in ages adds to the community feel of the show, which ultimately offers a message of kindness and goodwill.

"The theme of the show is giving," said Cataldi. "At Viterbo, we talk a lot about the teachings of St. Francis of Assisi. One of his lessons is, 'In giving, we receive.' That's what I would say this show is about."


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