Music, theatre departments merge for holiday operetta

The Wayland Baptist University theatre and music departments will combine to present the holiday operetta Amahl and the Night Visitors at 8 p.m. on Dec. 12-14 in the round in Harral Studio Theatre on the Plainview campus.

The dates were changed from those originally published in season ticket brochures due to scheduling conflicts.

The operetta, written by 20th century composer Gian Carlo Menotti, was originally commissioned for television in the 1950s, the first occurrence of its kind. Menotti's final product was aired on NBC on Christmas Eve in 1951. Since then, schools and community theatres around the world have performed Amahl countless times around the Christmas season, some as an annual tradition.

According to Dr. Marti Runnels, theatre director at WBU, the operetta is enjoyable even for those who might not fancy themselves real opera fans.

"From the standpoint of people who've never experienced opera before, it's one of the best you can see," he explained. "It's really accessible in every way, and it's only 50 minutes long. The story is easy to follow and it's not a heavy piece."

Set at the time of Christ's birth, the story involves a young boy, Amahl, and his mother. Though crippled and forced to walk with a crutch, Amahl is a happy, well-adjusted and very self-sufficient child, though "prone to exaggeration and fanciful stories," Runnels said.

Amahl and his mother are visited by the three kings on their way to bring gifts to the newborn Jesus and are delighted to hear about the new king and the bright star. Though poor and lacking anything to give, Amahl offers the kings his crutch for the newborn king and he is immediately healed. He then gets to accompany the kings to worship Baby Jesus.

"It's really a story about childlike faith and miracles and giving - all the themes in the Christmas season," Runnels said.

Senior music major Marleny Morales of Plainview plays the lead role of Amahl. Runnels points out that having a female play Amahl is not uncommon, though Menotti discouraged it.

"The composer at the time suggested that it never be performed with a girl in the role of Amahl," he said. "But it's a boy soprano, so you'd have to work with a 10- or 11-year-old boy before his voice changed. I've chosen to break that convention, and it's been done many times, of course."

Senior theatre major Tisa Whitfill plays Amahl's mother, with David Harper, Alan Yarbrough and Chris Moore playing the three kings. John Ed Baker plays the page, while the chorus/shepherds are played by Shannon Smith, Amy Grisham, Billy Fleming, Travis McCullough, Sarah Gatlin, Labrina Lang, Marta Turpin and John Harris.

Runnels is directing the piece, with Dr. Scott Herrington, professor of music, provided vocal direction. Dr. Sandra Mosteller, assistant professor of music, has helped assemble a small orchestra that will accompany the production. Dr. Gary Belshaw, assistant professor of piano, will be accompanying on piano and leading the orchestra.

Set design is by Chris Moore, with Teresa Moore providing choreography.

Admission to the production is $8 for adults and $4 for students. Individuals bringing a grocery sack of non-perishable foods to be donated to Plainview's Faith in Sharing House will receive half-price admission.

To make reservations for the production, contact the box office at 291-1089.