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Opera and the Holidays
Evan Wildstein, Manager of Education and Adult Learning Programs, OPERA America
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Original Content12/3/2009

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In the midst of the holiday frenzy, the music that accompanies the festive season provides a happy and sometimes nostalgic respite. The holidays will come and go in the next three weeks, but good art will outlast the more prosaic parts of the season. As opera companies close out 2009 with productions and community events geared to the festive season, families and audiences have ample opportunity to add opera to their celebrations.

If we were to picture 1830s Paris on Christmas Eve, we might envision the setting of the Puccini masterpiece, La bohème. Irrespective of company size, Bohème is consistently one of the most frequently produced operas. Opera in the Heights in Houston, TX is a company connecting the work to the holiday season with English-language, narrated, 30-minute piano-excerpt community events. One, a partnership with the Museum of Fine Arts, tied two presentations to Georges Seurat's painting, View of the Seine.

No discussion of holiday productions is complete without Gian Carlo Menotti's Amahl and the Night Visitors. The opera originally aired on NBC Television on Christmas Eve in 1951 and at one point was declared "the most frequently performed opera in the history of the art form" by The Opera Quarterly. A quick survey of the field will constantly return a handful of companies and organizations producing the work near the holidays, such as Palm Beach Opera, Fargo-Moorehead Opera and Opera Idaho. In their 38-year history, Opera Idaho never performed Amahl. "We've expanded our season in 2009-10 to present more mainstage operas and… seeing a void in the holiday season, Amahl seemed like the perfect fit," says executive director Mark Junkert. "It helps," Junkert says, "that we can produce [Amahl] entirely with local singers and that it is otherwise not an expensive opera to produce." A flexible and adaptable piece, it is not surprising the work is so often done — Tri-Cities Opera in Binghamton, NY has produced the work 18 times in their 60 year history. For those unable to attend a local performance of Amahl, The Museum of Broadcast Communications has made the original presentation available on their Web site.

Whether a well-known work, holiday partnership or young artists caroling in the community, opera companies continually provide festive experiences around North America. Contact your local opera company to learn of their holiday plans, or visit OPERA America's Schedule of Performances to see if such a work is being produced in your area.
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