"Amahl and the Night Visitors" used to be a fixture in Salt Lake City every December, but performances of Gian Carlo Menotti's short-but-sweet opera aren't as easy to find as they used to be. The Salt Lake Symphony and University of Utah Lyric Opera Ensemble teamed up Saturday to present the holiday classic; with luck, Salt Lake City musical groups will revive the tradition.
"Amahl" tells the story of a disabled shepherd boy and his encounter with the Three Kings on their journey to see the Christ Child. Menotti's charming score and the gentle humor of his English-language libretto save the story from being cloying. It also helps when there's a strong singer portraying Amahl's mother, and soprano Demaree Clayson Brown made the character's concern for her son heart-tuggingly real in Saturday's performance.
Though Menotti intended the role of Amahl to be played by a boy, young soprano Katie Marshall brought the right combination of innocence and mischief to her portrayal. She sang with precision and a sweet, clear tone.
Tyler Oliphant, an accomplished veteran of Salt Lake's singing scene, was Melchior, ringleader of the kings. Merrill Flint, as Balthazar, and Lucas Goodrich, as the comical Kaspar, rounded out the solid trio, with Geoffrey Friedley as their Page. A good-sized chorus of adults and children didn't always have razor-sharp ensemble with the orchestra, but their singing was strong. Four dancers performed a charming ballet, choreographed by Elisse Bonan. Salt Lake Symphony conductor Robert Baldwin led a chamber-size ensemble in beautifully colored accompaniment. The small, efficient set was designed by Halee Rasmussen; Lyric Opera Ensemble director Robert Breault and his cast made good use of the rest of the space in Libby Gardner Concert Hall.
The other works on Saturday's program also featured one or more of the Magi: Duke Ellington's "Three Black Kings," dedicated to Balthazar, Solomon and Martin Luther King; and Respighi's "Three Botticelli Pictures," depicting "La Primavera," "The Adoration of the Magi" and "The Birth of Venus." Oboist Hilary Coon and bassoonist Ryan van Liere were standouts in a polished and well-balanced performance.
Salt Lake Symphony
P The community orchestra performs music of Ellington and Respighi, then teams up with the University of Utah Lyric Opera Ensemble to present Gian Carlo Menotti's one-act Christmas opera "Amahl and the Night Visitors."
With • Conductor Robert Baldwin
Where • Libby Gardner Concert Hall at the University of Utah
When • Saturday