It was a magical production of Menotti’s “Amahl and the Night Visitors” we enjoyed last night at Sunset Center. This endearing one-act opera, with only one stage set can, in the wrong hands, come off as static. However, this production was so brilliantly staged by Walt deFaria, artistically lighted by Dennis Randolph, and fast paced thanks to stage director Rick Larsen, it kept us absorbed from beginning to end. The Monterey Symphony under the direction of Max Bragado-Darman in the orchestra pit provided a solid musical accompaniment to the action on stage, the chorus directed by Cheryl Anderson was impressively professional and Carol Richmond’s “Dance Kids of Monterey County” provided a charming dance sequence.
At the center of the action, Amahl, played by 11-year-old Ethan Yuet-Hong Yan, displayed not only charm and a lovely voice, but also convincing acting skills. Equally impressive was Amahl’s mother, soprano Angelique Zuluaga, whose powerful voice and commanding presence on stage was a major factor in the success of the production. Baritone Peter Tuff, as King Melchoir, wearing a large crown was so tall he constantly dominated the stage, and his powerful and artistically dramatic voice was consistently impressive. Equally impressive was bass James Grainger as King Balthazar, whose deeply resonant voice made him a commanding presence on stage. Lyric tenor J. Raymond Meyers sang the role of King Kaspar and provided some of the evening’s most amusing comic relief.
During the performance of Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons” string orchestra members of the Monterey Symphony performed on stage surrounded by the Amahl set. However, the set was unlit and appeared to be a minimalistic collection of 8” x 8” boards with two protruding beams looking like scaffolds prepared for a hanging. However, when the orchestra players were cleared from the stage and the set was imaginatively illuminated, the magic began to grab us. Especially impressive was the effect of a starry night sky projected on a screen behind the set. This gave a colorful backlighting to the set and gave it a three dimensional appearance. It also served to backlight the silhouettes of the three kings (and later the chorus) during their first appearance on stage. The stage lighting was cleverly designed to discretely highlight different areas of the stage during the action. This lighting was all done with great subtlety that never drew attention to itself.
The evening’s concert began with a performance of Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons” featuring concertmaster Christina Mok as leader and violin soloist. Any opportunity to hear a performance of Vivaldi’s great work is likely to be a powerful experience, and it certainly was on this occasion. Mok dazzled us with her virtuosity, her warm vibrant tone and her elegant musicianship. Her high voltage energy in the faster movements kept us transfixed, and her expressive beauty in the Adagio molto movement of L’autunno was remarkable for her tasteful addition of charming ornamentation and embellishment. In this same movement the continuo playing of harpsichordist Jonathan Salzedo was fabulous with his imaginative figurations, ornaments and arpeggiations of chords – some of the best continuo playing I have ever heard.
During the intermission we had an added bonus as members of the Cabrillo Chorus, led by Cheryl Anderson, entertained us in the Sunset Lobby with some holiday related music. Perhaps this will become a new tradition for the Monterey Symphony’s Holiday concert.
This was a great concert, and it drew an impressive crowd. It looked like a sellout audience, and its members were such happy campers they gave the musicians and actors a huge standing ovation.