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Idaho State Presents Family-Favorite Holiday Opera

October 28, 2021

Two children perform opera

Opera ISU and the ISU Chamber orchestra will present “Amahl and the Night Visitors,” the beloved one-act holiday opera by Gian-Carlo Menotti, in a semi-staged concert version Friday and Saturday, Nov. 12 and 13 at 7:30 p.m. in the Bilyeu Theater, Frazier Hall.  Admission is free; masks are required.

Menotti, the eminent American composer, wrote “Amahl” for an NBC television premiere on Christmas Eve, 1951.  The first opera composed especially for television, this tale of a little boy’s encounter with three kings following the Star of the East – and the ensuing miracle – became an instant holiday classic, broadcast annually through the mid-1960s and performed seasonally throughout the English-speaking world.

“Amahl” represents no specific place.  Instead, Menotti called for “the anachronistic character of those figures one sees in . . . any of the paintings of the Flemish and Italian primitives.”  The entire story is presented from the viewpoint of Amahl himself, Menotti wrote, and “must be interpreted simply and directly in terms of a child’s imagination.”

Many institutions, such as the University of Utah, have made “Amahl” an annual event, but  it has not been presented in Pocatello since ISU last produced it in 1973, according to musical director Kathleen A. Lane of the ISU Music Department. Part of the reason for the 48-year hiatus might be that the composer specified that the role of Amahl should be performed by a boy treble, Lane said.

“Thanks to the excellent training provided by the ISU Children’s Choir, we found not one but two boys with the voice and musicianship for the role, so we can feature a different singer each night,” she said.  “We also need to credit their school, Grace Lutheran.”

The role of Amahl will be performed by Denzel Sweat, 10, and Piero Vasquez, 11.  Amahl’s mother will be performed by ISU student Claire Smedley, mezzo-soprano.  The tenor role of King Kaspar will be shared by ISU students Julio Murillo and Sage Ramey; the baritone part of King Melchior goes to ISU students Nick Perondi and Brian Ricks.  For the bass role of King Balthazar, ISU has retained Aaron Williams, a 2014 graduate of Southeastern Oklahoma State University who is currently working toward a Master of Music in Vocal Performance at the University of Montana.  The Page will be performed by ISU tenor John Derouen.  The cast will be rounded out by a chorus of shepherds and villagers. The ISU Chamber Orchestra will be conducted by Dr. Geoffrey Friedley, with stage direction by Dr. Diana Livingston Friedley, both of the ISU Music Department.  Costume design will be provided by Prof. Tara Young, chair of the ISU Theater Department.

The 1973 performance, which also took place in Frazier Hall, featured some prominent figures in the Pocatello musical scene, according to Prof. Lane.  “The role of the Mother was shared by two noteworthy mezzo-sopranos: Beverly Call, the real-life mother of prominent local cardiologist Ben Call; and Elaine Hofman, the mother of Casie Jensen, head of the ISU Cosmetology Program.

“ISU would like to dedicate our current production to these singers who did so much to advance music in our community,” said.  “Friday night is in honor of Elaine Hofman, and Saturday night, we honor Beverly Call. We must never forget that it’s dedicated performers like them who maintained the standard that we aspire to today.”

The leads will be performing without masks and the ensemble will be masked during the show. Seating will be distanced between family groups, and masks for the audience are required.



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