Review: 'Amahl and the Night Visitors' by WCSU Opera

Nancy Sasso Janis

- Connecticut Critic / Connecticut Critics Circle

Danbury, CT - The students of Western Connecticut State University Opera presented ‘Amahl & The Night Visitors’ by Gian Carlo Menotti this weekend at the Ives Concert Hall, a multi use auditorium on the midtown campus. This marked the sixteenth annual production of this opera that was originally commissioned by NBC to be broadcast on television. The opera is directed annually by Dr. Margaret Astrup,  

‘Amahl’ has become a popular holiday tradition for the university and Greater Danbury communities, providing a special opportunity for hundreds of school children as well as family audiences to enjoy a performance by the WCSU Opera and share in the spirit of the season. The opera tells the story of an impoverished and crippled shepherd boy’s encounter with the Three Kings on their way to Bethlehem and the heart-warming outcome of their chance meeting.

I attended the Saturday evening performance, which turned out to be the first alumni presentation, where WCSU Opera alumni were invited to dig out their scores, rehearse once and participate in this special performance. Dr. Astrup hopes to make this an annual tradition. 

While this made for a wonderful production on Saturday evening, it meant that the current WCSU students in the principal roles had to step into the large shepherd chorus for this performance. In addition, all of the principal roles were already double cast.  For me it meant that I missed out on seeing my own son in the comic role of the Page that serves the Three Kings. It was mostly his fault for allowing me to cover the 1214 Foundation’s NewArts opening night on Friday when he was scheduled to play the role. He actually was not aware of the alumni performance and thought there was a chance that he might perform the role on Saturday. While it was nice to see him as a shepherd, I couldn’t help but feel disappointment as I watched the alum singer perform what is a great small part in the opera. 

At this performance, Danbury HS freshman Braeden Callaghan reprised his role as Amahl and did well with both the vocals and the boyish disabled character. He shared the role with Mason Harper, a ten year old from Woodbury. Cidalia Alves Kettles of Fairfield earned a Bachelor in Music in Voice from WCSU and gave an outstanding performance as Amahl’s widowed mother. Her rich voice made the role a memorable one for me. At the other performances, the role was played by seniors Kaitlyn Carruthers and Deanna Broga. 

All three of the kings sang their roles beautifully. Erick Sanchez (Bobby in ‘Company’ at Brookfield Theatre of the Arts and Ren in ‘Footloose’ at Musicals at Richter) was the fuzzy-minded Kaspar and he nailed the comic elements. Matthew Johnson, reprising the role, and Edwin Rodriguez, a third year vocal performance major, shared the role at the regular performances. 
Melchior was performed by Hernan Berisso, a wonderful lyric baritone from Brooklyn reprising the role he played while undergrad. The current WCSU students were third year Vocal Performance major Matthew Feinberg and sophomore Samuel Cournoyer. Balthazar was performed by Alexander Patrie, a WCSU grad who is pursuing a degree in Music Ed; Daniel Satter, reprising the role, and Keith Shaw shared the role. The Page was covered by Nicholas Ciasullo. At the other performances, the role was played by freshman Christian “CJ” Janis in his WCSU debut and junior Music Ed major Daniel Rehberg.

Many of the current opera students will appear in the upcoming production of ‘The Gondoliers’ by Gilbert and Sullivan March 24 - March 26. The opera will be coming to the Mainstage Theatre and will be presented in part by the Department of Theatre Arts. 

Dancers included Delicia Woods (the choreographer,) Samantha Bank, Michael Newman of Naugatuck, Gabriella Jimenez, Delana Veilleux, and alumni Carly Phypers Anderson and Brendan Fox. The Shepherds sang together beautifully and included Kaylin Spaulding, Olivia Conforti and Christina Manalo. Lights were run by Zachary Whitlock. Music was provided by Andrew Gordon on piano and Dorothy Darlington or Kate Wegener on oboe that mirrored the flute played by Amahl. Simple sets and costumes were fine for the space. 

Overall, this was the perfect introduction to opera for young patrons and the many students from area schools probably enjoyed it as such. Perhaps tradition dictates that the performances are presented in this older venue instead of the brand new spaces on the Westside campus, but it felt a bit tight during curtain call. I was asked to move from a seat in the front row (that was not marked with tape as the center orchestra was) because a lot of action happened in the space house right. It gave me chills when the chorus sang from the back of the auditorium as well as from a corner of the wrap-around balcony. I look forward to seeing this annual tradition in upcoming years but I plan to choose my performance and seat more carefully. 

Photo by WCSU Opera