Public Relations  >  News Center  >  News Releases  >  January 2017  >  January 23, 2017  >  Fine and Performing Arts preps opera ‘Amahl’ for Kennedy Center Regional Convention
Fine and Performing Arts preps opera ‘Amahl’ for Kennedy Center Regional Convention

“Amahl and the Night Visitors,” Creighton University’s winter musical and an opera centering on a young boy’s encounter with the Three Magi bound to find the Christ child, continues to bear gifts for the Department of Fine and Performing Arts. Here, Natalie Hanson, right, in the role of Amahl, talks with Rachel Schmidt, who plays the young boy's mother.“Amahl and the Night Visitors,” Creighton University’s winter musical and an opera centering on a young boy’s encounter with the Three Magi bound to find the Christ child, continues to bear gifts for the Department of Fine and Performing Arts.

Last month, the cast and crew of “Amahl” learned the show would be heading into competition as a featured production in the Region V Convention of the Kennedy Center American Collegiate Theatre Festival on Jan. 25 in Des Moines, Iowa.

“It is an exhilarating feeling and a great honor for our students and for Creighton,” said Stephen Sheftz, director of Creighton’s BFA in Musical Theater program and the conductor of the 30-plus piece “Amahl” orchestra. “The production has been an immense undertaking and we have been so proud of all the students, the faculty and staff, and the volunteers who have done such a wonderful job with a challenging performance.”

“Amahl” is just the second Creighton production ever to be selected for a Kennedy Center Regional performance. More than a decade ago, the first selection was unable to go forward due to an injury sustained by one of its leading actors, so “Amahl” will be the first Creighton performance in the Regional competition.

For this show, specifically, to garner a competition nod, is a testament to the versatility and adaptability of Creighton’s Fine and Performing Arts students, Sheftz said. He cited that in addition to the full performance honor, three actors — Natalie Hanson, Rachel Schmidt and Sam McKinney — are also competing individually for the Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship at the Festival.

“It’s exciting,” said Hanson, a junior musical theatre major starring in the opera’s title role. “It’s definitely one of the more challenging shows we’ve ever done. Yes, it’s opera and that’s a whole new discipline to learn, but I feel we’ve grown from the experience and made ourselves stronger actors and singers. For me, this was always an exciting show, even if it comes with a little bit of nerves — I’m in a unique role playing a 12-year-old boy when I’m a female college student.”

Like all the actors in the production, neither Hanson nor Rachel Schmidt, a senior musical theatre major who performs the role of Amahl’s mother, had any previous experience with opera when rehearsals on “Amahl” began.

But with the instruction of Sheftz and help from the show’s director, M. Michele Phillips, everyone adapted to the new style, broadening their musical disciplines. Schmidt said the Kennedy Center Regional nod was the perfect way to top the experience the cast has had on the show.

“It’s a huge honor, to begin with,” she said. “But considering not one of us was an opera singer, it makes it that much more special for me. We were able to learn this new discipline and to do it convincingly enough, well enough, to earn something like this. I’m glad it’s paid off and that we’re getting one more chance to share this music and this story with another group of people.”

First performed in a live broadcast from the NBC Television Opera Theatre in New York City on Christmas Eve, 1951, “Amahl and the Night Visitors” is the work of Italian-American composer Gian Carlo Menotti, who originally wrote the libretto, score and staging as the first opera commissioned for television.

“Knowing that it was made for television and it was in English — as so few operas are — gave us some confidence that we could approach this,” said Schmidt. “But more than that, it’s a good Christmas show that people can enjoy and that’s accessible. I think people were really moved by this story and through the music.”

As the cast and crew prep for competition, Schmidt and Hanson said they’re doing so with a feeling of expectation and hope.

The curtain rises on Creighton’s performance at 7:30 p.m., Jan. 25, in the auditorium at Hoyt Sherman Place in Des Moines. The venue was built in the 1870s as a palatial private home for Sherman, a banker and businessman, and added a 1,500-seat theater in the 1920s.

“To be able to perform in a bigger space and to get a chance to do what I a lot of us hope to do in a professional career, it’s special,” Hanson said. “I think we’re all eager to get a look at the space and to perform the show.”

Along with the show itself and the competition for the Irene Ryan Scholarships by Hanson, Schmidt and McKinney, costumes designed by Lindsay Pape will be featured in competition at the festival.

“Amahl and the Night Vistors” also stars McKinney as King Melchior, Nik Whitcomb as King Kaspar, Danny Carraher as King Balthazar, and Andreas Guevara as the page. The orchestra is joined by a chorus of 25 — with students and volunteers from around the Omaha area comprising the production’s vocal and instrumental musicians — and six featured dancers.

Set design is by Bill Van Deest, technical direction is by Mark Krejci and lighting design is by Hunter Froelich and Clara Johnson.

Sheftz said a major compliment paid by the Kennedy Center representatives who took in Creighton’s show and recommended it for competition was the clear and beneficial collaboration between vocal and instrumental music, theatre, dance, and technical disciplines.

“One of the reasons they were eager to accept us is that they do so rarely see a production that comes from an entire Department of Fine and Performing Arts working in such a healthy way,” Sheftz said. “Music, theatre, dance, orchestra — everybody was so obviously working together. It’s something we’ve grown accustomed to at Creighton, but it’s still something to appreciate, especially when it brings recognition like this.”

---
Creighton University is a Jesuit, Catholic university bridging health, law, business and the arts and sciences for a more just world.