Amahl and the Night Visitors has all the ingredients of a Christmas show – lyrical music, a winsome boy hero and a miracle at its heart. Written for television in 1951 it’s the story of a poverty-stricken mother and her lame son whose lives are transformed when the Three Kings pop in on their way to Bethlehem. It was inspired by Gian Carlo Menotti’s memories of his Italian childhood.
Bampton Classical Opera’s semi-staged performance in the grand nave of St John’s Smith Square struggles to create the intimacy and lightness of touch necessary for this touching, funny little opera.
Musical standards were high, with conductor/pianist Anthony Kraus and Keval Shah drawing brightness and drama out of Menotti’s own transcription for two pianos. It’s tricky to balance adult operatic voices with that of a boy soprano, particularly since Amahl is in every scene.
Eleven-year-old Southwark chorister Felix Gillingwater has a sweet, pure voice but his middle range, where most of the dialogue is placed, didn’t carry beyond the first few rows. However his duet with Emma Stannard (Mother) – a generous mezzo-soprano who won the 2017 Bampton’s Young Singer competition – was a high point, along with the trios of the nicely characterised Three Kings, Robert Winslade Anderson, Nick Sales and Samuel Pantcheff.
The adult-voice Shepherds’ Chorus was good-humoured and awkwardly rustic, especially the country dancing.
It’s always a pleasure to hear Menotti’s lyrical score, but the simple, magical Christmas story was rather swamped by St John’s lofty architecture. It may sound better in the little church of St Mary’s, Bampton, whence it travels on December 21.