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Nickel City's Amahl and the Night Visitors finds a new home

A Late Christmas Visit
Nickel City Opera's Amahl and the Night Visitors finds a new home
Jaqueline Quirk

For the last five years, Nickel City Opera has presented multiple holiday performances of the Italian composer Gian Carlo Menotti’s one act opera Amahl and the Night Visitors at the Riviera Theatre in North Tonawanda on the weekend following Thanksgiving. For this holiday season’s performances, NCO artistic director Valerian Ruminski has changed things, moving both the venue and the dates for Amahl. NCO will stage Menotti’s Amahl and the Night Visitors, in partnership with Westminster Presbyterian Church, in the church’s sanctuary, at 724 Delaware Avenue in Buffalo, with performances at 7pm on Friday January 8, at 3pm on Saturday January 9 and at 3pm on Sunday, January 10 with a special school show at 10am on Monday January 11. Since the Feast of the Epiphany is celebrated on the January 6, the 12th day after Christmas, it somehow seems more appropriate to celebrate it by performing Amahl this upcoming weekend, than on Thanksgiving weekend.

First presented in 1951, Amahl and the Night Visitors, the initial production of the still-running Hallmark Hall of Fame, enjoys the unique distinction of being the first opera to be broadcast live on American television, and it has been a Christmas season favorite ever since. The story, which takes just under an hour to unfold, is that of a little boy who gets a visit from the Three Kings on their journey to the Nativity, resulting in some magically wonderful results. Menotti wrote Amahl with the inspiration of Hieronymus Bosch’s painting Adoration of the Magi and his own childhood memories in which the Three Kings, Melchior, Balthazar, and Kaspar, played much more important roles than St. Nicholas. Amahl is a crippled shepherd boy, prone to telling tall tales, who lives in poverty and obscurity with his weary, bitter mother. When the magi stop by their home on a cold winter night, a delightful story, but one that is also poignant and profound, unfolds.

As the opera’s music director Matt Marco observes: “Westminster Presbyterian has a long history of finding unique ways to engage the community in worship and with that spirit current choirmaster Garrett Martin suggested that Amahl return in 2016. Presenting Amahl at Westminster dates back to the tenure of Choirmaster Thomas Swan (1976-2001) and was a yearly Epiphany tradition. I’ve worked with Nickel City Opera on two productions of Amahl and teaming up with them is the best way to present high quality performances for both the Westminster congregation, and the larger Western New York audience.”

While past NCO performances of Amahl at the Riviera relied solely on the theatre’s marvelously versatile Wurlitzer pipe organ to effectively deliver the wide range of musical accompaniment that can usually only be managed by much larger musical forces, this fully costumed and staged production will feature a chamber ensemble, as well the church’s Aeolian-Skinner Organ, an instrument which contains 84 ranks and a manual console that controls the nearly 5,200 pipes, played by Westminster’s music director Garrett Martin.

Jacqueline Quirk, the assistant director for NCO’s production of Tosca, and for the recent, highly effective BPO production of Bluebeard’s Castle, will direct the production. Quirk, who has served as an assistant director for Central Florida Lyric Opera, Virginia Arts Festival, Hawaii Opera Theater, and the Players Club in NYC, is a vocal teacher and artist-in-residence at the Nardin Academy and the director of ‘The Performers Forum’ program in Italy.

Jessica Best, who sang the role of Marcellina in last season’s NCO production of The Marriage of Figaro, will sing the role of the Mother, and Ian Torres, an eleven year old who is in his sixth year as a member of St. Paul’s Cathedral Choir, will sing the title role of Amahl. John Clayton, who sings with Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus, the Harmonia Chamber Singers, and the Choral Arts Society will sing the role of Kaspar; Wayne Line, who has appeared with Opera in the Ozarks, the Natchez Festival of Music, South Florida Opera, and Delaware Valley Opera will sing the role of Melchior; Nick Kilkenny who has sung roles with Buffalo Opera Unlimited and Houghton Lyric Theater will sing the role of Balthazar, and Tyler J. Mecklenburg , a vocal performance major at the Fredonia School of Music, will appear as the Page.

Tickets: $16 adults/$8 children available at the door. Or in advance at—type in “Amahl”.

Buffalo Tango Orkestra at Pausa

On Saturday January 9 at 8pm, the Buffalo Tango Orkestra makes its Pausa Art House debut. Violinists Miranda Scoma, Ana Vafai, and Lazara Nelson, will be joined by bass player Ben Levitt, pianist Ivan Docenko, Argentine singer Miguel Benitez, and the group’s founder, the multi-talented Israeli musician Moshe Shulman, who will perform on the bandoneón, the Argentine accordion that is absolutely essential to the creation of an authentic tango orchestra. “In 2012, when I lived in Argentina”, says Shulman, “I led the Baires Klezmer Orchestra in Buenos Aires, and later that year, when I returned to America I formed the Buffalo Tango Orkestra, which has already performed in tango festivals, both locally and in Toronto”. Moshe has also performed on the bandoneón in Toronto, Boston and Baltimore with world famous tango artists such as Ariel Ardit.

The doors open at 7pm and the concert starts at 8pm. Admission: $7.

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