Niagara Gazette — The Nickel City Opera Company’s annual production of the Christmas staple “Amahl and the Night Visitors,” this weekend at North Tonawanda’s Riviera Theatre, is reaching the end of its run.
“It’s our fourth annual production," said Executive Director Valerian Ruminski. "We’ve had a very healthy box office, and it seems we’ve started a tradition, but it’s time to switch up.”
This perennial classic, a great way to shake off Thanksgiving and adopt a Christmas mindset, will be on the Riviera stage today and Sunday, and it’s taken on a now-or-practically never tone.
First, the company: Nickel City Opera is Western New York’s professional opera company, and it has ingrained itself in the local arts firmament since its founding in 2004. With this troupe, every performance includes high-caliber soloists, costumes, choruses, sets, lighting, musicians — the works. Contrary to opera’s top-hat image, the venerable but comfortable Riviera Theatre makes a night at the opera a relatively casual experience. Popcorn, for example, is available.
For those who have never attended an opera — and the audience at a typical Nickel City performance includes students, families, couples on dates and opera experts — this could be the ideal gateway, a serious opera organization offering a short and straightforward holiday tradition.
“Amahl and the Night Visitors” tells the story, in one act, of a disabled boy and his miraculous healing after a chance encounter with the Three Wise Men on their way to Bethlehem. Sung in English, it can be regarded as part of the fabric of Christmas.
The opera itself, composed by Gian Carlo Menotti, has an interesting history. It was commissioned by NBC in 1950 as a live television program, and debuted on Christmas Eve 1951 as the first “Hallmark Hall of Fame” presentation. It was history’s first televised opera, repeated regularly at Christmas, and thus has become something of a classic.