‘Night visitors’ deliver lesser-known Xmas treasures | VailDaily.com

‘Night visitors’ deliver lesser-known Xmas treasures

Shauna Farnell

BEAVER CREEK – It’s common knowledge that the three kings followed the Christmas Star, but there’s a whole story behind what they went through along the way.What better way to learn that story than via an operatic ballet performance from a company The New York Times acclaims to be “the company to see.”James Sewell Ballet, based in the Twin Cities, will perform “Amahl and the Night Visitors” at The Vilar Center of the Arts in Beaver Creek on Sunday, Dec. 19.Amahl is a crippled shepherd boy entranced with a star he sees in the night sky. He and his mother, who is very poor, are visited one night by three kings who are on a journey to visit a newborn king for whom they’re bringing many expensive gifts. The mother attempts to steal some of the kings’ treasures to help heal her son, but is caught. “The thing that’s interesting about this is that there’s a whole generation who knows it really well, it has a special place in their hearts, and there’s the rest who don’t know it at all,” said James Sewell, who has been performing “Amahl” with his company since 1995, having been inspired to nab it as the company’s mainstay holiday piece after he performed a role as a shepherd in the story when he was a child, which was his first experience on stage.”This story is just magical to me,” he said. “It was the first opera commissioned for television and a big, annual Christmas tradition for people. You’ve got something like ‘The Nutcracker,’ which celebrates more of the party side of Christmas; ‘Amahl’ celebrates forgiveness. It’s just a great message for this time of year.”The story was first written and performed by Italian librettist and composer Gian Carlo Menotti. “Menotti made the story up when he was a kid,” Sewell said. “Apparently, he was healed miraculously himself, so he wrote the piece.”Sewell said the original version that was televised in 1951 was destroyed in a fire a few years ago and only the audio portion of the broadcast exists. Eight dancers from James Sewell Ballet will perform Sunday to a tape of the original audio broadcast, and, for both visual artistic appeal and to help tell the story, it will incorporate American sign language. The company invites young talent from the communities in which it performs to join into the piece as shepherds, and seven children from the Vail Valley will have a role in Sunday’s show.”Everybody goes to see ‘The Nutcracker’ and ‘The Christmas Carol;’ this is a show that used to be like that,” said Vilar Center director Kris Sabel. “It’s normally sung as an opera – it’s a little lesser known. This company uses sign language, which is a beautiful art form, and artistic ballet.”James Sewell Ballet prides itself on appealing to audiences outside of those enamored with traditional ballet. Also, throughout its years of performing “Amahl and the Night Visitors,” the company has received a slew of feedback remarking on the emotionally evocative quality of the performance.”People are often surprised that the music and the story are so touching,” Sewell said. “People get teary-eyed. We even do really well with dragged husbands. The husbands get dragged to shows and ballet is not their thing. But, it’s not the typical kind of ballet. There are things we do that are funny and spontaneous. People walk out and they didn’t get their grocery list done during the show. I’m thankful for that.”Sunday’s performance will also include a solo piece by Sewell, a rare impromptu dance performance, and an excerpt from “The Nutcracker.”AT A GLANCE:James Sewell Ballet performs “Amahl and the Night Visitors Sunday at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $38 and $42. For more information, visit http://www.vilarcenter.org., or call (888) 920-2787. Staff Writer Shauna Farnell can be reached at (970) 949-0555, ext. 610, or sfarnell@vaildaily.com.Vail Daily

Support Local Journalism