'Amahl and the Night Visitors' returns to the stage Nov. 16-18

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October 31, 2018

By Kathryn Sohm '21

actors on stage

Photo from the 2016 production of “Amahl and the Night Visitors” at Saint John’s University.

Celebrate the upcoming Christmas season with a tale that all ages can enjoy.

“Amahl and the Night Visitors” is a one-act opera performed in English with 23 life-sized puppets, brought to life by 17 puppeteers who are students at Saint John’s Preparatory School.

The opera will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 16 and Saturday, Nov. 17, and at 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 18 at the Stephen B. Humphrey Theater at Saint John’s University. The production is part of the 2018-19 Fine Arts Series at the College of Saint Benedict and SJU.

This collaboration between Saint John’s Preparatory School and the Fine Arts Series features a cast of live singers and musicians from the Prep School, including six vocal soloists, a chorus and a full orchestra.

Commissioned by Queen Elizabeth II and created by John and Lyndie Wright of the Little Angel Puppet Theatre of London in 1966, Saint John’s Abbey acquired the puppets in 2008 through an exceptional turn of events. Liz Bussey-Fentress, a childhood friend of Br. Paul-Vincent Niebauer, OSB (they grew up together in Phillips, Wisconsin), worked with the London theater company and knew the company was looking to find a new home for the puppets. 

Since their arrival in Minnesota, much care and attention has been showered on these unique pieces of art in order to restore the puppets.

The puppets add intrigue and dimension to this simple, yet powerful story of the Three Magi who stop for a night on their journey to Bethlehem and meet a special young boy named Amahl. What transpires is a precious, rarely heard tale that complements the traditional Christmas story.

“It’s a great Christmas story, and it’s a little fresher than ‘A Christmas Carol’,” Niebauer said.

In 2016, the Amahl Puppets turned 50 and celebrated by performing two shows at the Stephen B. Humphrey Theater at SJU with 60 live singers, musicians, and puppeteers (a third performance was cancelled by a snowstorm). Since then, the puppets have been “resting” and gearing up for the 2018 performance, Niebauer said.

The show brings students, faculty, community and Abbey members together to produce a Christmas gift to the audience. Each puppet has at least two puppeteers bringing them to life (Amahl has three puppeteers).

“Talk about a great ensemble cast,” Niebauer said, noting that wide involvement.

The opera was composed by Italian-American composer and librettist Gian Carlo Menotti. Menotti was inspired by growing up in Italy, where they did not have a Santa Claus, and instead were given gifts from the Three Kings.

When the show premiered in 1951 it became the first opera to be exclusively composed for television and played on NBC every year until the original tape was lost. After that, it has been performed live many times and even broadcast on Australian television in 1957.

Tickets are $22 for adults, $19 for seniors, and $15 for CSB/SJU staff. Youth and students (with ID) get in for $10, and CSB/SJU student tickets are $10.

For tickets, call the Benedicta Arts Center Box Office at 320-363-5777 or order online.

The performance is made possible in part by the voters of Minnesota through a Minnesota State Arts Board Operating Support grant, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.