A Synopsis: 'Amahl and the Night Visitors'

The Story of Gian Carlo Menotti's NBC Commissioned One Act Opera

Amahl and the Night Visitors Friday, November 21, 2014 Wright Center, Samford University Birmingham, Alabama
Ralph Daily/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

"Amahl and the Night Visitors" was composed by Gian Carlo Menotti and premiered on Dec. 24, 1951. This was the first opera composed for television in the United States and debuted at the NBC studio 8H in Rockefeller Center, New York City. Set in Bethlehem in the first century after the birth of Christ, this opera is one act long. 

The Story of 'Amahl and the Night Visitors'

Amahl, a boy known for his tall tales and the occasional lie, gets around on a crutch due to his disability. As he sits outside playing his shepherd's pipe, his mother calls for him to come inside. Amahl is slow to react to his mother's commands. Finally, after several attempts to get him inside, he walks into the house. Amahl tells his mom a grand story of a giant star rising high in the sky above their house. Of course, she doesn't believe him and tells him to stop bothering her.

Once the sun has set, Amahl's mother worries about her and her son's future. Before falling asleep, she prays to God that Ahaml doesn't have to turn to a life of begging. Suddenly, there's a knock at the door. Amahl's mother shouts for Amahl to answer it and Amahl happily gets out of bed. He opens then the door, and to his surprise, finds three luxuriously appointed kings. Amahl's mother shuffles to the door. Having just traveled a long distance to deliver gifts to a child of great wonders, the Magi ask for permission to stay at their home for the remainder of the night. Amahl's mother warmly ushers the three kings into her home. When she goes to get firewood, Amahl, ever inquisitive, asks the kings about their daily lives and duties. They happily oblige, and after having answered each of his questions, they ask questions of their own. He replies that he used to be a shepherd, but after a series of hardships, his mother had to sell all their sheep. He tells them that it won't be long before they turn to begging to earn a less than ideal living. King Kaspar, with a similar personality to Amahl, opens his treasure box to show Amahl the magic stones, brightly colored beads, and candies he has brought to the Christ child. He even offers Amahl several pieces of licorice. Amahl's mother comes back to find Amahl buzzing about the kings. She holler's at him to not be a nuisance and sends him out to bring back their neighbors with hopes to entertain the kings.

Later that night, after the neighbors have left and the festivities have ended, the three kings take to their room and go to sleep. Amahl's mother sneaks down to the kings' unattended treasure boxes to take a few gold coins for her and her son. The kings' page wakes up to find Amahl's mother pocketing the gold and he cries out for help to catch the thief. The page jumps on Amahl's mother's back hoping to stop her. Amahl is woken up by the commotion and rushes out of his room to see his mother being attacked by the page. Immediately Amahl starts fighting the page. King Melchior is able to ease the situation, and understanding Amahl and his mother's predicament, allows them to keep the gold. He says the Christ child will not need all that gold to build his kingdom. Amahl's mother is overcome with joy when she hears of such a king and implores the Magi to take back the gold. She even offers to give a gift of her own, but sadly, she has nothing to give. Amahl, too, wishes to give a gift to the Christ child. He offers the Magi his most valuable possession - his crutch. As soon as the crutch is handed over, Amahl's leg is healed miraculously. With his mother's permission, Amahl travels with the Magi to see the Christ child in person to offer him his crutch in thanks to healing his leg.