Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Performances

Monteverdi: The Ache of Love - Live from London

There’s a “slide of harmony” and “all the bones leave your body at that moment and you collapse to the floor, it’s so extraordinary.”

Music for a While: Rowan Pierce and Christopher Glynn at Ryedale Online

“Music for a while, shall all your cares beguile.”

A Musical Reunion at Garsington Opera

The hum of bees rising from myriad scented blooms; gentle strains of birdsong; the cheerful chatter of picnickers beside a still lake; decorous thwacks of leather on willow; song and music floating through the warm evening air.

'In my end is my beginning': Mark Padmore and Mitsuko Uchida perform Winterreise at Wigmore Hall

All good things come to an end, so they say. Let’s hope that only the ‘good thing’ part of the adage is ever applied to Wigmore Hall, and that there is never any sign of ‘an end’.

Iestyn Davies and Elizabeth Kenny bring 'sweet music' to Wigmore Hall

Countertenor Iestyn Davies and lutenist Elizabeth Kenny kicked off the final week of live lunchtime recitals broadcast online and on radio from Wigmore Hall.

From Our House to Your House: live from the Royal Opera House

I’m not ashamed to confess that I watched this live performance, streamed from the stage of the Royal Opera House, with a tear in my eye.

Woman’s Hour with Roderick Williams and Joseph Middleton at Wigmore Hall

At the start of this lunchtime recital, Roderick Williams set out the rationale behind the programme that he and pianist Joseph Middleton presented at Wigmore Hall, bringing to a close a second terrific week of live lunchtime broadcasts, freely accessible via Wigmore Hall’s YouTube channel and BBC Radio 3.

Natalya Romaniw - Arion: Voyage of a Slavic Soul

Sailing home to Corinth, bearing treasures won in a music competition, the mythic Greek bard, Arion, found his golden prize coveted by pirates and his life in danger.

Purcell’s The Indian Queen from Lille

Among the few compensations opera lovers have had from the COVID crisis is the abundance – alas, plethora – of streamed opera productions we might never have seen or even known of without it.

Philip Venables' Denis & Katya: teenage suicide and audience complicity

As an opera composer, Philip Venables writes works quite unlike those of many of his contemporaries. They may not even be operas at all, at least in the conventional sense - and Denis & Katya, the most recent of his two operas, moves even further away from this standard. But what Denis & Katya and his earlier work, 4.48 Psychosis, have in common is that they are both small, compact forces which spiral into extraordinarily powerful and explosive events.

A new, blank-canvas Figaro at English National Opera

Making his main stage debut at ENO with this new production of The Marriage of Figaro, theatre director Joe Hill-Gibbins professes to have found it difficult to ‘develop a conceptual framework for the production to inhabit’.

Massenet’s Chérubin charms at Royal Academy Opera

“Non so più cosa son, cosa faccio … Now I’m fire, now I’m ice, any woman makes me change colour, any woman makes me quiver.”

Bluebeard’s Castle, Munich

Last year the world’s opera companies presented only nine staged runs of Béla Bartòk’s Bluebeard’s Castle.

The Queen of Spades at Lyric Opera of Chicago

If obsession is key to understanding the dramatic and musical fabric of Tchaikovsky’s opera The Queen of Spades, the current production at Lyric Opera of Chicago succeeds admirably in portraying such aspects of the human psyche.

WNO revival of Carmen in Cardiff

Unveiled by Welsh National Opera last autumn, this Carmen is now in its first revival. Original director Jo Davies has abandoned picture postcard Spain and sun-drenched vistas for images of grey, urban squalor somewhere in modern-day Latin America.

Lise Davidsen 'rescues' Tobias Kratzer's Fidelio at the Royal Opera House

Making Fidelio - Beethoven’s paean to liberty, constancy and fidelity - an emblem of the republican spirit of the French Revolution is unproblematic, despite the opera's censor-driven ‘Spanish’ setting.

A sunny, insouciant Così from English Touring Opera

Beach balls and parasols. Strolls along the strand. Cocktails on the terrace. Laura Attridge’s new production of Così fan tutte which opened English Touring Opera’s 2020 spring tour at the Hackney Empire, is a sunny, insouciant and often downright silly affair.

A wonderful role debut for Natalya Romaniw in ENO's revival of Minghella's Madama Butterfly

The visual beauty of Anthony Minghella’s 2005 production of Madama Butterfly, now returning to the Coliseum stage for its seventh revival, still takes one’s breath away.

Charlie Parker’s Yardbird at Seattle

It appears that Charlie Parker’s Yardbird has reached the end of its road in Seattle. Since it opened in 2015 at Opera Philadelphia it has played Arizona, Atlanta, Chicago, New York, and the English National Opera.

La Périchole in Marseille

The most notable of all Péricholes of Offenbach’s sentimental operetta is surely the legendary Hortense Schneider who created the role back in 1868 at Paris’ Théâtre des Varietés. Alas there is no digital record.



Photo by B.A. Van Sise
09 Dec 2019

Miracle on Ninth Avenue

Gian Carlo Menotti’s holiday classic, Amahl and the Night Visitors, was the first recorded opera I ever heard. Each Christmas Eve, while decorating the tree, our family sang along with the (still unmatched) original cast version. We knew the recording by heart, right down to the nicks in the LP. Ever since, no matter what the setting or the quality of a performance, I cannot get through it without tearing up.

Miracle on Ninth Avenue

A review by Andrew Moravcsik

All photos by B.A. Van Sise


So take it with a grain of salt when I praise Amahl as the only truly perfect opera. Here the cliché is literally true: one cannot imagine adding or subtracting a single note. Other canonical operas approach such distilled perfection: Mozart’s Così fan tutte, Rossini’s Barbiere di Siviglia, Verdi’s Il trovatore and Falstaff, Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi, and Strauss’s Salome come to mind. Yet even these great works contain a few moments, if not an aria or two, where inspiration flags. Not so Amahl.

From the start, critics have protested that Amahl is flawless only because it is so simple-minded. On the train to the performance, I ran into one of the most experienced and enthusiastic opera-goers I know – someone who has been around long enough to have watched the premiere of the opera’s live premiere on NBC TV almost seventy years ago. He scoffed at my choice of evening entertainment, insisting that he never wants to hear Amahl again.


One can understand why. It is a children’s opera based on an unabashedly sentimental Christmas tale concocted by Menotti himself: on their way to Bethlehem, the Three Kings pass by the house of a poor crippled boy, who is miraculously cured and joins their caravan. It was the first made-for-TV opera, which meant the story had to be told in just 45 minutes, so as to leave space for an announcer’s introduction and, in the first years it was broadcast, a commercial for Hallmark Cards. In the heyday of atonality, Menotti’s music was a throwback to the Italian romantic idiom of Puccini, yet with much less complexity. After a brief prelude, the action starts and ends with an oboe ditty in C Major; in between, it deploys diatonic major and minor harmonies (though at times more complex and harmonically ambiguous than they may seem) and conventional folk rhythms, all played by a modest chamber orchestra.

Yet, like all the greatest operas, the music composed for Amahl is onomatopoetic. Elsewhere, Menotti employed dense textures, complex tonalities, and weird orchestral timbres; here, his writing is deliberately naïve and sincere. It underscores the libretto’s central message: life is ultimately about love and generosity, on the model of the family – and in this, the disadvantaged among us deserve special regard. Moreover, as Menotti reminds us in his production notes, the story is told from the perspective of Amahl, an innocent (if mischievous) child. It is he who first sees the kings, defends his mother (when she steals out of love for him), receives the miracle, and departs at the end to thank the baby Jesus himself. Only by watching this do the adults around him learn that Christmas is not, as King Melchior puts it, about the rich giving gold, frankincense, myrrh and other worldly things to someone who “does not need it.” It is about helping those immediately before us. The same conviction inspired Charles Dickens, O. Henry, Hans Christian Anderson, Frank Capra, Dr. Seuss and many other authors of classic holiday tales.


In sixty years, no production of this opera I have attended captures the essence of Amahl better than this revival by On Site Opera. This company has become an essential element in the exciting renaissance of small-scale lyric theater in New York today. Its specialty is “site-specific” opera: immersive performances to small audiences in non-traditional everyday spaces.

Last year this production premiered to great praise. This year it returned to the sanctuary of the 175-year old Church of the Holy Apostles on Ninth Avenue at 28th Street – a lovely space which doubles as the site of the largest feeding program of the Episcopal Church, serving over 1000 meals every weekday lunch. The performance takes place in the middle of the church sanctuary, with the audience all around.

Menotti set the opera in a shepherd’s hut two millennia ago, which he imagined to be much like the rural Italy of his youth. This production transports the action to the present and to an urban setting – just like that immediately outside the church. Amahl becomes a poor kid who plays with plastic superhero toys, his mother a tired single parent. The three kings are eccentrically dressed street people schlepping their possessions around in shopping carts. It remains deliberately unclear whether they perceive the same reality others do – and whether their quest to honor the newborn Jesus is real or delusional. Most in the cast are people of color, and the chorus and dancers are comprised of performers who have experienced homelessness at one time or another.


For a modern urban audience, this approach renders the relevance of the opera’s central point obvious and amplifies the opera’s dramatic intensity. One example must suffice. A high point of the opera occurs when Amahl’s Mother, thinking of stealing some of the kings’ gold to help her child, sings:

All that Gold! All that Gold!
I wonder if rich people know
what to do with their gold?
Do they know how a child could be fed?

Do rich people know?

No one can miss the point when she addresses these yearning vocal lines to a largely white, well-educated and wealthy Manhattan audience sitting just a few feet away.

One of the strong points of On Site Opera is its ability to find singers with the technical facility and dramatic immediacy to deliver such lines in such intimate setting. Here they succeeded brilliantly. All were believable in an immersive setting. As Amahl’s Mother, the young Viriginian soprano Aundi Marie Moore sang with warmth and soared passionately above the ensemble when needed. Boy soprano Devin Zamir Coleman, a multi-talented sixth grader from Harlem with diverse film, vocal and instrumental credits, sang with remarkable intonation and power. Joshua Jerimiah, Musa Ngqungwana and Julius Ahn – who have collectively sung on the stages of many of America’s major opera houses – comprised a sonorous trio of kings. Jonathan R. Green appeared as their servant (here a security guard), singing with an appropriately harsh edge.

One could raise technical quibbles. Moore struggled with some low-lying phrases. A sweeter timbre and more attention to rhythmic cadence of parlando phrases, which Menotti notated precisely and early performances under his direction observe strictly, might have better conveyed Amahl’s combination of insouciance and innocence. The orchestral playing and choral singing was more boisterous than tender. Whether due to first night jitters or challenging acoustics unsuited to a studio opera, moreover, the performers were not always together and some balances confusing. (The kings, for example, got softer as they neared Amahl’s house.) The chorus struggled to render some passages cleanly (not least the final fugal section), while the dancers were more exuberant than skilled.

None of this really matters. For those who attended, the sincerity and power of Menotti’s music and message, conveyed in a uniquely modern setting, transcended any technical limitations. I tried hard and failed to resist tears, as did dozens of other similarly entranced spectators around me. This unique production deserves to be revived as a permanent part of New York’s holiday season.

Andrew Moravcsik

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):