By: Melissa Vach
Arts & Entertainment Editor
The Viterbo music department’s production of Amahl and the Night Visitors will hit the Fine Arts Center main stage Sat., Dec. 7 at 7:30 p.m. and Sun., Dec. 8 at 2 p.m.
An opera written by Gian Carlo Menotti, Amahl and the Night Visitors focuses on a young crippled shepherd boy named Amahl and his mother who are visited by the three kings, Melchior, Balthazar and Casper, as the kings travel to meet the newly-born baby Jesus.
“[Amahl] is very unique,” Baritone Raymond Graybar, fifth-year senior music major in vocal performance with a vocal pedagogy emphasis from La Crosse, Wis., told Lumen. Graybar plays the role of Melchior, the king bearing the gift of gold which symbolizes power.
“Menotti specifically asked that Amahl be only sung by a young boy, never by a soprano or anyone [else],” Graybar said. “He wanted to keep the innocence within the story, and asked that the entire production be portrayed from the perspective of a small child. It’s a very welcoming, welcome to all ages production.”
“[Amahl] is such a beautiful Christmas story, and the opportunity to work with a young voice is really special,” Chelsea Verges, fifth-year senior music major with an emphasis in piano performance and piano pedagogy from Baraboo, Wis., told Lumen. “[Amahl] also seems to bring the community together in a different way by supporting the arts and celebrating the miracles of Christmas.”
Verges, a mezzo-soprano, will play the role of Amahl’s mother during the Thursday school show and Sunday matinee performance. Anna Parks will play the mother Saturday evening. There are also two different Amahls; one to sing with Verges, the other to sing with Parks.
Verges has previously performed in the music department’s chamber opera Dido and Aeneas as the second woman.
“The mother is a widowed shepherdess who lives with her son, Amahl, who is 10 years old in [the] production,” Verges said. “They are struggling to make ends meet and she tends to be stressed out much of the time.
“The role of the mother is different from the [second woman from Dido and Aeneas],” Verges said. “While both roles are largely concerned with the well-being of others, the second woman [was] concerned about Dido’s life and the mother [is] concerned about feeding and taking care of Amahl. The mother has other worries in her life, and some of those, I feel, can be up to the interpretation of the actor. This is what makes her more challenging for me, along with the difficult music.
“I have really enjoyed the bits of freedom with interpreting her character, but this aspect can make it more challenging when you try to make that character believable to the audience and relatable to the other characters, especially her son, Amahl,” Verges said. “The music was challenging in respect to changing and unexpected shifts in tonality, which was quite different in comparison to Dido and Aeneas.”
“In all of my productions [at Viterbo], this is one of the most well-prepared, for myself and the other cast members,” Graybar said. “We’re all at the point where we all know what we’re supposed to do. It’s going to be a really great production. All of the main cast are seniors and super-seniors.”
“It’s kind of neat that [Amahl] is my last opera at Viterbo and also the first one I sang,” Graybar said.
Graybar performed the role of Amahl when he was 13 and a member of the La Crosse Boy Choir, then under the direction of Dan Johnson-Wilmot, the current music department chair at Viterbo.
“After I sang in Amahl, I saw that singing and music can have a real effect on others,” Graybar said. “It got me hooked to bring happiness to my audience whenever I [sing]. Plus, it’s a blast whenever I get on stage.”
Graybar has previously performed in the music department’s production of The Marriage of Figaro as Figaro, which he mentioned being a great honor, and in Cinderella as Dandini. He also performed in Gianni Schicchi and The Nightbell.
“I grew up in small town La Crosse, and never thought much of myself,” Graybar said. “In this role, I have to create an entirely new persona and self-image, and I have to do it without seeming too full of myself. So, I have to portray myself as someone worthy of honor and respect and entitlement. Obviously there has to be a sense of humility since [Melchior] is visiting the baby Jesus.
“On top of all that, for me, the fact that I’ve sung in this opera before and [that] this is the opera that got me hooked on singing [is] going to make my singing and my integrity of character all the more meaningful,” Graybar said.
Tickets may be purchased at the Viterbo Fine Arts Center Box Office or online for $18 main floor, $15 lower balcony and $12 upper balcony. Children’s tickets are $16, $13 and $10 respectively. Discounts are available online at the time of writing after Black Friday and may still apply: $16.20, $13.50 and $10.80 for adults, and $14.40, $11.70 and $9 for children. Students with a valid ID receive discounts on tickets at the box office.