Christmas opera’s spirit reaches beyond the stage

| Susan Klemond | November 17, 2015 | 0 Comments
From left, Christopher Fast (King Melchoir), Vincent VanHatten (Amahl), Rich Kubista (King Balthazar), Peg Janisch (Amahl’s mother), Andy Elfenbein (King Kasper) and, kneeling, Joshua Vosberg (the page) in a scene from “Amahl and the Night Visitors.” Courtesy Joe McDonald

From left, Christopher Fast (King Melchoir), Vincent VanHatten (Amahl), Rich Kubista (King Balthazar), Peg Janisch (Amahl’s mother), Andy Elfenbein (King Kasper) and, kneeling, Joshua Vosberg (the page) in a scene from “Amahl and the Night Visitors.” Courtesy Joe McDonald

Proceeds from ‘Amahl and the Night Visitors’ performances to benefit local charitable causes

Vincent VanHatten, 12, had to imagine the life of a poor, crippled boy his age before he was ready to portray the fictitious Amahl in the holiday opera “Amahl and the Night Visitors” at local Catholic churches this season.

Along with learning to use a crutch while acting and singing, VanHatten has tried to understand his character’s life of poverty and family relationships, which he said are different from his own.

“I look at the words and try to imagine what feelings he has and the things he says,” said VanHatten, who lives in Plymouth.

VanHatten is performing the title role in the story of Amahl and his widowed mother, who experience miracles as they extend hospitality to the Three Kings traveling to Bethlehem to honor the Christ Child.

Three upcoming free performances of  “Amahl and the Night Visitors,” produced by Gary Janisch and SOAR Regional Arts, are slated for two parishes in November and December.

This year marks the fourth time Janisch has produced the opera since 2004. However, it’s the first production with SOAR, a St. Michael-based nonprofit that produces performing arts events for the communities of St. Michael, Otsego, Albertville and Rogers. As such, it features a professional team, 18-piece orchestra, boys’ choir and a new set.

“It’s a story that is heartwarming,” said Janisch, a member of St. Maximilian Kolbe in Delano. “You have some laughter, you get choked up, you have some tears in your eyes, and when you leave you just feel so good about the whole experience.”

The one-act opera, which runs 45 minutes and is sung in English, is among the most popular American operas. Gian Carlo Menotti composed the opera for NBC, which first broadcast a live television performance of it in 1951.

“Amahl and the Night Visitors” was performed locally Nov. 13 and 14 at St. Peter Church in Delano, part of St. Maximilian Kolbe parish. It will be staged again Nov. 20-21 at St. Michael’s historic church in St. Michael, and on Dec. 5 at the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis. Members of the North Star Boys’ Choir will sing Christmas carols before each performance.

The current production features several cast members from earlier productions, but has expanded from past years with Janisch’s new collaboration with SOAR. The organization is managing all aspects of this year’s production, said Terrell Beaudry, SOAR president and “Amahl” production manager. Janisch and members of St. Maximilian Kolbe organized the first production.

An anonymous donor has underwritten the $50,000 cost of this year’s production, and all donations collected at the performances will go to charitable causes, Janisch said. Money raised at four of this year’s five performances will go to Love INC-Heartland, which mobilizes local churches to help those in need in communities west of the Twin Cities. Proceeds of offerings at the Basilica of St. Mary performance will be applied to the Basilica’s operating budget.

While the production hopes to help the charities it supports, Janisch also hopes it affects its audience. “It’s more about everyone walking out of there and taking something with them — a good feeling,” he said. “It’s going to make a difference. They’re going to look at things differently.”

For more information, visit SoarArts.com.

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Category: Faith and Culture