Song Spotlight: “Amahl and the Night Visitors”
- Mood: Ranges from sad/anxious to joyous
- Themes: Christmas, visiting the Christ child, miracles
- Tempo: Varies
- Genre/Style: Opera (English)
Here it is, December 22nd, and I have spent the last month singing tons of holiday songs. Any of them would be worthy of a song spotlight here, but today, I just want to share my personal favorite music for the season: “Amahl And The Night Visitors.”
Written by Gian Carlo Menotti under commission from NBC, “Amahl” is a one-act opera in English. It debuted sixty years ago on Christmas Eve, 1951 as the first opera composed for American television and the first production of the Hallmark Hall of Fame. (You can think of it as the original Christmas special!) Since then, it has remained relatively popular as a live musical offering in many communities. I even got to perform in the orchestra for a local production of “Amahl” once as an oboist, and I loved the experience.
“Amahl” tells the story of a young shepherd boy who is disabled to the point of walking with crutches. He lives alone with his mother in poverty, one step away from begging door-to-door. Amahl’s mother is justifiably worried, but Amahl himself is cheerful and content, looking at the world with child’s eyes, full of wonder. One night, their home is visited by three kings, who are traveling a long distance to meet the Christ child. Amahl is amazed by the three visitors and their stories about the baby, but his mother is not so excited. In fact, she thinks it is rather unfair that these rich men are indulging in her hospitality only to take their extravagant gifts to some baby many miles down the road, when her own child is in need. In the conflict and resolution that follows, we receive a message of grace in a beautiful illustration of the Christmas story.
I love “Amahl” for many reasons, including the charming orchestration (the rustic “Shepherds’ Dance” is my favorite part) and the humorous interactions Amahl has with the three visitors. Mostly, though, I love the story and how the powerful emotions running underneath the plot are portrayed through the music. In this time of economic distress for many, Amahl’s story may hit closer to home than ever. Perhaps the message of grace and forgiveness can come closer to home as well.
You can watch the 1978 version of “Amahl and the Night Visitors” in its entirety on YouTube. It’s split into six parts, starting here.
“Amahl” is one piece of music that I rarely share in music therapy sessions, mainly due to its length and many clients’ stated dislike of opera music. That being said, listening to “Amahl” is a very personal Christmas tradition for me, and I make time to listen to it at least once every December.
Have you heard “Amahl and the Night Visitors” before? Have you shared it with clients or loved ones? What other Christmas songs have a special meaning for you? Be sure to share your thoughts in the comments section!
This post is part of an occasional series on special songs to share with your loved ones. For more song spotlights, click here.