Amahl and the Night Visitors is the first opera commissioned for television. Gian Carlo Menotti wrote the opera because in Italy, where he was born, there was no Santa Clause. Christmas presents were brought by the three wise men. The opera is inspired by the painting by Hieronymus Bosch’s The Adoration of the Magi.
Menotti had difficulty finishing the opera by the deadline and when he was completed the singers only had a few days to rehearse for their live performance. Even though he wrote Ahmal and the night visitors for television, Menotti tried to make it so that it could be done on a stage as well. He specifically requested that any performances have a boy play Amahl, not a women dressed as a boy as some operas do.
An estimated five million people saw Amahl, the largest audience ever to see televised opera. The opera was televised each year from 1951-1966 and in 1978 by NBC and by the BBC in 1955 and 1959. The first three years it was presented in black and white, but then it was broadcast in color. In 1963 the opera was videotaped rather than being done live on air. Due to a dispute about the production, Menotti didn’t allow production of the opera again until 1978.
The story of Amahl and the Night Visitors starts with Amahl seeing the star outside of his home. The crippled boy has a problem with telling the truth and his mother doesn’t believe him when he tells her about it. The three kings show up and after some troubles the mother and son learn about Jesus. They have nothing to give, and Amahl decides to give Jesus his crutch, after which his legs are healed. Amahl leaves with the kings to see the baby Jesus.
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