This painting, The Adoration of the Magi, by Hieronymus Bosch from the 15th century was apparently a significant inspiration for Gian Menotti, the composer of Amahl and the Night Visitors. The opera in one act was commissioned by NBC in 1951 and was the first opera specifically composed for television.
Amahl and the Night Visitors was a favorite of my Mom, the story as much as the music. I grew up with an old LP record of Amahl that we played at Christmastime. As a young girl, she took me to a screening of the movie in the early 1960's in New York City. How she got tickets, I never bothered to ask. In 2001 we saw a live matinee performance at Benaroya Hall in Seattle. Like Mom, the story is the magic of Amahl.
- Place: Near Bethlehem
- Time: The first century, just after the birth of Christ
Later that night, Amahl's mother weeps, praying that Amahl not become a beggar. After bedtime , there is a knock at the door and the mother tells Amahl to go see who it is. He is amazed when he sees three splendidly dressed kings (the Magi). They tell the mother and Amahl they are on a long journey to give gifts to a wondrous child and they would like to rest at their house, to which the mother agrees. The mother goes to fetch firewood, and Amahl seizes the opportunity to speak with the kings. King Balthazar answers Amahl's questions about his life as a king and asks what Amahl does. Amahl responds that he was once a shepherd, but his mother had to sell his sheep. Now, he and his mother will have to go begging. Amahl then talks with King Kaspar, who is childlike, eccentric, and a bit deaf. Kaspar shows Amahl his box of magic stones, beads, and licorice, and offers Amahl some of the candy.The mother returns. Amahl is told to go fetch the neighbors so the kings may be fed and entertained properly.
After the neighbors have left and the kings are resting, the mother attempts to steal for her son some of the kings' gold that was meant for the Christ Child. She is thwarted by the kings' page. When Amahl wakes to find the page grabbing his mother, he attacks him. Seeing Amahl's weak defense of his mother and understanding the motives for the attempted theft, King Melchior says she may keep the gold as the Holy Child will not need earthly power or wealth to build his kingdom. The mother says she has waited all her life for such a king and asks the kings to take back the gold. She wishes to send a gift but has nothing to send. Amahl, too, has nothing to give the Child except his crutch. When he offers it to the kings, his leg is miraculously healed. With permission from his mother, he leaves with the kings to see the child and give his crutch in thanks for being healed.