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Arts and Entertainment

MSU Opera Workshop and Messiah Project Co-Produce a Holiday Double Bill

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(Poster design courtesy Missouri State University Opera Workshop)
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In a spirit of cooperation, there are two opera productions here in Springfield next weekend--and the producers deliberately worked out performance dates that don't conflict with each other.  Missouri State University Opera Workshop and Messiah Project will present a holiday double bill on Saturday and Sunday Nov.17 and 18, and Springfield Regional Opera will perform a Mozart-and-Salieri double bill Friday night the 16th (which you can read and hear about here).

"We worked it out so you can fully immerse yourself in great music, all in one weekend," according to Dr. Ann Marie Daehn, director of the MSU Opera Workshop. 

MSU's double bill consists of Gian-Carlo Menotti's one-act opera originally written for NBC Television in the early 1950s, "Amahl and the Night Visitors," along with an adaptation of O. Henry's short story "Gift of the Magi" by composer David Conte and librettist Nicholas Giardini.  "Messiah Project has a long history of wonderful productions" of "Amahl," says Dr. Daehn, and when she considered producing it with MSU opera students, "we decided it was a perfect partnership."  MSU is supplying their student chamber orchestra conducted by Dr. Amy Muchnick, and Messiah Project has added their Credo Dance Academy dancers to the mix.

Nixa seventh grader Cameron Donnell is one of the young performers portraying Amahl, the disabled shepherd boy who, along with his mother, meets the Three Kings who are on their journey to Bethlehem to behold the Christ child.  Alex Kennedy is one of the other Amahls. Donnell says he was cast in the lead because Dr. Daehn “asked my old choir teacher if he knew any kids with an unchanged voice, and who is a great singer.  So he suggested me, and I said ‘yes.’”  This is Donnell’s first time in the role, but many Amahls go on to bigger and better things in the world of opera. Dr. Daehn’s old voice teacher Bill McIver was one of the youngsters who portrayed Amahl in those annual NBC-TV productions of Menotti’s opera in the 1950s. (The kinescope recording of his 1955 live telecast is available on DVD.) And if you attended Springfield Regional Opera’s “Barber of Seville” production in the early 1990s, you saw baritone Robert Sapolsky in the title role.  He sang Amahl in a 1978 filmed version of the opera, opposite soprano Teresa Stratas as The Mother.  (Sapolsky was still a boy soprano himself at that time!)

Cameron Donnell says he sees Amahl as “a boy who just wants to be comedic—and wants to stand up for his mother.”

Dr. Daehn first met the composer of "Gift of the Magi," David Conte, at a National Opera Association gathering a few years back, and she calls his opera "just a beautiful score--it has a very Puccini-esque sound to it. It's a wonderful story about love and what's really important at the holidays. It’s such a lovely show—small cast. We have marvelous singers, Shane Pyles and Alana Yeomans, both of whom were national finalists in singing competitions this past summer.”  It’s the story of a poor married couple who can’t afford Christmas presents for each other. “And they each make a sacrifice to give the other a gift... and then realize the irony (and comedy) of cutting your hair to sell, to buy somebody something, and they buy new hair clips [for you]!”

Both “Amahl” and “Gift of the Magi” are one-act operas and each lasts just under an hour. “They pair very well together to make a full evening of beautiful music,” says Ann Marie Daehn. She says the Credo Dance Academy fits in “marvelously well.  Those dancers just understand the message so clearly, and are so well trained. It’s going to be a beautiful combination.”

There will be four performances, three of them in the Springfield Art Museum auditorium: a free performance for school students on Friday the 16th at 10:00am--free tickets are available by emailing amahlSGF@gmail.com--and two public performances at the Art Museum, Saturday Nov. 17 at 7:30pm and Sunday Nov. 18 at 3:30pm.  The production travels to Monett's Performing Arts Center, 1 David Sippy Drive, on Friday November 30 at 7:30pm.

Tickets are $20 adults, $5 for students and children, available at http://missouristate.edu/opera or at the door. In another example of cooperation, when you order tickets for the MSU/Messiah Project double bill at the MSU Opera Workshop webpage, you can also order tickets for SRO’s “Mozart vs. Salieri,” and receive a five percent discount off the price of both shows.