For the average person, the term “opera” likely elicits less-than-positive reactions and conjures up all sorts of images, possibly of a giant, bellowing woman wearing a two-horned Viking helmet, holding forth in an unintelligible language.
Jenna Tamisiea, GLOW Lyric Theatre’s artistic director, understands. “Some of the stereotypes are warranted,” she says.
Since its inception seven years ago, GLOW Lyric Theatre, a Greenville-based professional vocal arts company producing opera, operetta and musical theatre, has been on a mission to change the prevailing negative perception.
Each December for the last five years, GLOW’s mission is especially evident through its holiday performance of “Amahl and the Night Visitors,” a modern, one-act, Christmastime opera in English by Gian Carlo Menotti, who also founded the Spoleto USA Festival in Charleston in 1977.
Based on Italian versions of the Nativity and Epiphany, “Amahl and the Night Visitors” is a retelling of the story of the Magi from the point of view of a young disabled boy named Amahl, who lives in poverty with his widowed mother near Bethlehem. He sees a bright star in the sky one night and tells his mother to go look, but she brushes him off, buried in concern over their bleak future. That night, three kings who were following the star seek shelter in Amahl’s simple hut. They bring with them treasure and gifts to give to “the Child” who has just been born.
“It’s definitely a humanitarian story,” Tamisiea says. “It is about the Christmas story, but it’s more about cherishing family and the power of a child to change the world.”
This year, GLOW is performing the 45-minute opera Dec. 10, 16 and 20 in three Greenville churches, all with completely different stages requiring a variation on the set and blocking.
Tamisiea says in the past, GLOW has performed the opera in only one location, but since a secondary purpose of the show is to give back to the community and venues from ticket proceeds, performing it three times in as many locations allows for the donations to be spread out to more institutions. Of the ticket proceeds, 10 percent goes to United Ministries, and the remainder is split evenly between GLOW and the venue.
The primary purpose, though, is to bring the art form to more than just one audience and encourage an appreciation for it in all ages.
“It’s so very accessible,” Tamisiea says. “It’s through the eyes of a child and a mother. It’s relatable, it’s in English and it’s funny. It proves opera is about more than people standing on stage being boring and singing.”
The very first opera ever to be commissioned specifically for television, “Amahl and the Night Visitors” premiered and was broadcast live from the NBC Television Opera Theatre in New York City’s Rockefeller Center on Christmas Eve in 1951.
The opera features the five main characters along with a children’s choir and dancers, this year from the Fine Arts Center, who perform a mini-ballet mid-show.
Menotti wanted Amahl to be played only by a child, not a small woman, to ensure the perspective remains from a child’s point of view. GLOW’s Amahl has been played for the last three seasons by a fiery redheaded girl, Morgan Weiner, now 12. This is likely Weiner’s last year in that role, because she is almost too tall to be convincing as a small child, Tamisiea says.
Amahl & The Night Visitors
Dec. 10, 7 p.m. at the Greenville Unitarian Universalist Fellowship
Dec. 16, 7 p.m. at Fourth Presbyterian Church in Greenville
Dec. 20, 7 p.m. at Buncombe United Methodist Church in Greenville
Tickets: $15 (adult) and $5 (children) if purchased online before the event or $20 (adult) and $10 (children) at the door.
A portion of the proceeds from all performances will benefit both the hosting church as well as United Ministries.
For more information visit glowlyric.com or call 558-GLOW.