A big thank-you to my friend, Joanna, for reminding me about this opera! Amahl and the Night Visitors is a one-act opera written by Gian Carlo Menotti. It was the first opera written for television, and premiered on Christmas Eve, 1951, on NBC.
This is both the Christmas story told from a distance and the story of a poor, disabled shepherd boy and his widowed mother. The pair are at the end of their resources and on the verge of resorting to begging so they will not starve to death. Amahl is a dreamer, and often gets in trouble for telling tales, so when he sees a new star in the sky one night, his mother does not believe him. Besides, she is more concerned with the fact that she cannot feed her son.
Later that night they are visited by three kings who are following the star, bearing rich gifts for the Christ Child. They ask to stay for the night, and while Amahl goes to get the neighbors the kings tell his mother about the Child they are seeking. Amahl’s mother cannot help but think of the child closest to her heart, to whom nobody will bring gifts.
After food and entertainment provided by neighboring shepherds, everybody turns in for the night. Amahl’s mother, however, is unable to sleep, haunted by the wealth surrounding her in her poverty. She tries to steal some of the kings’ gold, but is caught by their page, who awakens everybody. Amahl tries to defend her and collapses in her arms. The kings tell her she may keep the gold, that the Child they seek doesn’t need it, and they go on to describe the kind of king he will be. When the mother hears their description she breaks down, saying that she’s waited for a king like that all her life, and she wants to send Him a gift of her own. Amahl agrees, and offers the thing most precious to him—the crutch that helps him walk. He holds it out to the kings, and finds that he has miraculously taken a step without it. He has been healed. After much dancing and celebrating, he and his mother agree that he should offer his thanks to the Christ Child in person, and he joins their caravan as they leave to follow the star.
I’ve enjoyed a variety of TV Christmas specials in my life, but this one is entirely in a league of its own. You can watch it on DVD if you aren’t lucky enough to have a live production in your area, and maybe your local library has this book—adapted by Frances Frost and illustrated by Roger Duvoisin, containing all the dialogue of the opera in story form—tucked away somewhere.