New York's Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen has been home to Menotti's opera Amahl and the Night Visitors over the last couple of days.
It is, unsurprisingly, the latest venture from On Site Opera as part of their project to stage operas in non-traditional venues, though in an environment which illuminates the piece in a new way. Amahl and the Night Visitors retells the Nativity story from the point of view of Amahl and his mother who are on the brink of poverty — a soup kitchen is an ideal location.
Tickets are free as the performances are part of On Site Opera's Opera Free For All initiative, though the company asks that all attendees bring a small donation of non-perishable food items for the Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen.
Before the performances started, I asked Aundi Marie Moore, who plays The Mother, what she thought it would be like singing in such an unusual location.
I personally think it will be great! I used to volunteer in soup kitchens and they tend to be in churches. I love singing in church. That is where I got my start as a young singer, so it will feel like home.
It's not quite a role debut for the young soprano, as she sang The Mother in high school.
I am originally from Chesapeake, Virginia, and student of the Govenor's School for the Arts. However, it feels like a debut role, and it's my debut with On Site Opera.
NBC television commissioned the opera — the first opera specifically composed for television in America — and it was first seen on Christmas Eve in 1951. Various versions have been filmed over the intervening years, and in fact, Aundi Marie Moore's first encounter with the opera was through seeing it on TV.
However, Menotti had always thought of it as being a stage piece, saying, “On television you're lucky if they ever repeat anything. Writing an opera is a big effort and to give it away for one performance is stupid.”
On Site Opera's Director, Eric Einhorn, says,
In this collaboration with our amazing partners at Breaking Ground and the Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen, we hope to show how the arts and social services can work hand in hand and help to shine a light on the issue of homeless in New York City, particularly during the holiday season.
Breaking Ground is New York City's largest provider of permanent supportive housing for the homeless with nearly 4,000 units of housing in its 652 apartments and some former homeless people have joined the chorus. Brenda Rosen, President of Breaking Ground, added,
We are so proud of our tenants who have joined the chorus for Amahl and the Night Visitors, and we are so grateful to On Site Opera for helping to lift their voices in unison. Hunger and homelessness often go hand-in-hand, and the unique setting at Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen is sure to bring a whole new level of meaning.
Aundi Marie Moore says that the singers will move though the space with the audience in groups around them.
The On Site Opera staff did a really great job of creating the soup kitchen space at the rehearsal studios. There is tape on the floors to give us an outline of the space, so we know our boundaries. The entire space is our playground.
Like all who become involved in On Site Opera's projects there is something more than just making music.
I believe doing projects such as these are so worthwhile to help educate the masses. These types of projects make opera so relatable as well as accessible to those who may not be able to attend this type of art form.
It is also fun for me to watch the guests' facial expressions when having a sizable voice so close to them. They go through all kinds of emotions from crying to laughing. Some just don't know really what to do with themselves.
Last two performances are today, 8 December, at 2pm and 6pm at the Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen, 296 9th Avenue, New York. Reservations are required.
The Mother: Aundi Marie Moore, soprano
King Caspar: Joseph Gaines, tenor
King Melchior: Daniel Belcher, baritone
King Balthazar: Musa Ngqungwana, bass
Amahl: Devin Zamir Coleman (Dec. 6 & 8 matinee); Luciano Pantano (Dec, 7 & 8 evening)
The Page: Jonathan R Green
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.