In 1951, Italian-American composer Gian Carlo Menotti was having some trouble. The National Broadcasting Company (NBC) had given him an unusual commission - to write an opera specifically for television - and he was suffering from writer's block. In his own words, "I simply didn't have one idea in my head."
Depressed due to his lack of productivity, Menotti wandered aimlessly through the halls of the Metropolitan Museum of Art until he happened upon "Adoration of the Kings" by Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch. The painting, which shows the Three Kings delivering their gifts to baby Jesus, reminded Menotti of how he relished the story of the wise men as a child in Italy.
"... As I was looking at it, suddenly I heard again, coming from the distant blue hills, the weird song of the Three Kings," he said. "I then realized they had come back to me and had brought me a gift."
The Williamsport Symphony Orchestra will perform its “Time to Rejoice”?holiday concert at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 18 at the Community Arts Center, 220 W. Fourth St. The performance will feature a semi-staged production of “Amahl and the Night Visitors”?directed by CAC?Executive Director Rob Steele.
His inspiration led him to compose "Amahl and the Night Visitors," which will be performed as a part of the Williamsport Symphony Orchestra's "Time to Rejoice" holiday concert. The show will be held at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Community Arts Center, 220 W. Fourth St.
According to WSO Conductor Gerardo Edelstein, "Amahl" is "one of the most performed operas ever."
"It's performed even more than 'Messiah' by Handel and 'Aida' by Verdi," he said. "It's the most performed opera in the world. And it's interesting that it was conceived for the television, but it was so successful it's become one of the holiday favorites."
While the piece is an opera, it's not one in the classical sense.
"The way it's written is not the same as a traditional opera - like ones we think of written by Puccini or Wagner," Edelstein said. "The writing is more accessible; it's somewhere between the opera and the musical."
At the heart of the production is the story: The Three Kings stop at the house of a poor mother and crippled boy, Amahl, during their journey to meet a "special king." Amahl's mother gathers up the townspeople to entertain the visitors, but as the night goes on, she gives into temptation - stealing some gold from the kings - and is caught in the act.
The production will feature fully costumed local soloists, a dancer and accompaniment from the Williamsport Chamber Choir.
"We held auditions for the main roles several months ago," Edelstein said. "We had quite a substantial number of singers interested and we had to make a decision, but we achieved our goal, which was to involve as many local people as we could."
The WSO's semi-staged performance of "Amahl," - directed by none other than Community Arts Center Executive Director Rob Steele - only accounts for half of the "Time to Rejoice" event. The first half of the concert will feature songs for the holiday season, including a holiday medley and "Sleigh Ride."
"You cannot do a holiday concert without 'Sleigh Ride,' " Edelstein said. "Or without having people sing-along. People expect that to be part of a holiday concert."
The winner of the WSO's annual Young Artist Competition, Juliette Greer, also will be featured as a part of the event, as she performs "Three Pictures of Chassidic Life" by Baal Shem.
When it comes to the opera, though, Edelstein says, "Don't be afraid."
"So many people, when they think 'opera,' what they imagine is this big lady screaming for two hours with no reason," he said. "That's a misconception. Opera can be fun and delightful and have a very, very moving story and profound music."
Tickets for the show range from $15 to $50 dollars and may be bought by visiting caclive .com or by calling the CAC box office at 326-2424 or 800-432-9382.
For more information, visit www.williamsportsymphony.org.