Alastair Willis

Gian Carlo Menotti: Amahl and the Night Visitors

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This 2007 recording of Amahl and the Night Visitors features the Nashville Symphony Orchestra and members of the Chicago Symphony Chorus. Conducted by Alastair Willis, it's a solid reading of the opera, but not one likely to supplant the original version of the 1951 production for NBC television, led by Thomas Schippers, who had an uncanny sense of the timing and rhythmic flexibility Menotti's scores need to be maximally effective, and to keep things flowing dramatically and musically. In the title role, Ike Hawkersmith sounds very young, and while his performance lacks the vocal polish of some Amahls, his youthful sound gives his performance a special poignancy. He comes across as a convincingly spunky and strong-willed pre-adolescent, which certainly fits the composer's conception of the character and is a nice change from the squeaky-clean choirboy sound of singers who are frequently cast in this role. The adults perform with conviction, but don't leave strong personal imprints on the roles of the Mother, the Kings, and the Page. The novelty of this release is the premiere recording of Menotti's late choral work My Christmas (1987), for men's chorus and chamber ensemble. It's a pleasant but entirely innocuous piece with little of the poetic or musical charm and integrity that make Amahl so enduringly and deservedly popular. George Mabry leads members of the Nashville Symphony Chorus and the Nashville Symphony Orchestra in a committed performance. Naxos' sound is clean and present, and creates a good sense of dramatic space.

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