Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Opera Wednesday

Over the years I seem to have become something of an authority on the TV opera Amahl and the Night Visitors. Every once in a while, especially at this time of the year, I'll find myself in a discussion that runs something along the lines of "why don't they do a new version of this on TV?"

It's a good question, one that I've asked myself.  The original 1951 broadcast, which featured Chet Allen's memorable turn as Amahl, as well as the 1952 broadcast with Bill McIver, make occasional appearances on the DVD trading circuit, but have never been commercially released.  The only version to make it to DVD commercially is McIver's final apperance as Amahl in 1955, which exists in a handsome release by VAI.  NBC's annual broadcasts of Amahl continued through 1966, but the 1963 showing was the last original staging (videotaped, it was run through 1966.  Whatever happened to that version?  Who knows.)

But those aren't the only versions of Amahl to make it to television.  NBC remade Amahl in 1978 with Teresa Stratas, but that one never made it past VHS.  The BBC mounted two versions of Amahl, in 1955 and 1959.  They also prepared a version for broadcast in 2002, but it was never broadcast.  Why?  Read all about it here.  The short version?  "The screen rights to Menotti's best-known work, which is often performed in schools, are held by an American company, Schirma, which plans to make its own film of the opera and will not sanction another version."

And that, apparently, is where the issue stands to this day.  Barring an unexpected change of heart - the "miracle" referred to in the Guardian's article - it's unlikely we'll see a new version any time soon.  And that's a pity.  Amahl is one of the truly unique moments in television history, but that alone can be transmitted through the 1955 video.  No, Amahl is a wonderful, charming story of a child's pure love, and the miracle that love produces.  Menotti's music and libretto are clever and intriguing - if you think you don't like modern opera, you should at least listen to a recording of it.  (The original cast recording is readily available on CD.)  Amahl can easily be enjoyed as a historical artifact; television viewers deserve to see it as a worthy hour of broadcasting, one that never forgets the reason for the season.
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