My parents were both musicians – my mother, a violinist; my father, a tenor and music historian – so I was always immersed in classical music growing up. It was only natural, then, that the record album I reached for every Christmas during the holidays was Amahl and the Night Visitors. We had the original cast recording on vinyl, and I listened to it with the same measure of enjoyment each year. Nor did I ever really stop listening to it, for it has that soulful, haunting quality that doesn't allow for letting go.
My parents were also two of the five million people who watched the 1951 live broadcast of the opera. They were both 13 years old at the time. My mother still recalls the occasion vividly. Her father, a violinist in the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra, urgently gathered the family around the TV set and explained that they were going to see something very special. Needless to say, the telecast didn't disappoint, and my mother sometimes reflected on what an amazing performance the boy, in particular, gave as Amahl.
My father has performed the role of Kaspar several times over the years, including his favorite production that featured my younger brother in the role of Amahl. Unfortunately, I was separate from that part of my family at the time, half a continent away, but my father still talks about my brother's interpretation of Amahl with glowing pride. I can also remember as a very young child being treated to my father's histrionic bellowing of “This is My Box”, either along with the record or a cappella, or maybe it was both.
This past fall, 2016, I happened upon the 1951 performance of Amahl on YouTube. How was I to know that it had been around for years? But the discovery was jarring; it was an impossibility, and all the memories, not just of Amahl, but of family, childhood, loss and hope came back to me, as that is the power that this opera has. And, of course, I wondered about Chet Allen, and I knew that this bright spirit would always be Amahl, but was also more than Amahl. Learning more about who he was became the impetus for this website.
In the comments section of this post, please feel free to share your own Amahl and the Night Visitors experiences past or present, including any upcoming performances you would like to announce.