The Church of the Transfiguration Presents Dancing Day and Amahl and the Night Visitors
A review by Nino Pantano
On the evening of Friday, December 15th, at The Church of the Transfiguration aka "The
Little Church Around the Corner" in New York City, we were treated to a delightful Christmas
program. The Church is both magnificent and simple, spacious and intimate. A perfect
setting for a pre-Christmas feast.
Renowned Brooklyn born Arnold Schwartz (1905-1979) was a great patron of this Church
and the Candlelight Concert was a memorial to his revered philanthropic deeds. His wife,
Marie Schwartz continues his ongoing generosity.
The Reverend Father John David van Dooren spoke with great enthusiasm for this special
concert and his particular fondness for Gian-Carlo Menotti's masterpiece about to come.
This concert was in two parts. The first, Dancing Day was by British composer John Rutter,
born in 1945. Mr. Rutter is a composer of note and renown who feared that people would
recall him only for his Christmas output and ignore his more prolific works. Coincidentally,
The New York Times featured this composer and his dilemma in a recent article.
Dancing Day is a cycle of carols. The piece begins with a harp solo Prelude, by the
prodigiously talented Kathryn Andrews. Her playing throughout was exciting and exemplary.
Angelus ad Virginem and A Virgin most pure was sung with stellar soloists Ambar Rosario,
Enlun Yin and Tessoro Estrella. Next was Personent hodie followed by an exuberant and
mighty harp solo by Kathryn Andrews and There is no rose with sparkling soloists Katie
Puschel soprano and Joe Redd alto.
The Coventry Carol was followed by Tomorrow shall be my Dancing Day beautifully sung by
Emely Perez. The choir director and conductor was Dr. Claudia Dumschat who led the
singers with unity and abandon. The "Dis, dis, dis" and "Goos, goos, goos" were sung as the
golden harp took us to the world of the magic and sanctity of John Rutter's Christmas! I
found Goldie Gareza listed among the tenors, her dark impressive mezzo well suited to her
being a female tenor as well.
The Transfiguration Choir of Men and Boys and the Lumines Girls Choir were true
messengers of John Rutter's Christmas spirit! The soloists sang with ease charm and
dedication in clear and heartfelt joy. Kathryn Andrews played piu forte and we were now
eager for Amahl and the Night Visitors. A beautiful warm up before the main course!
Composer Gian-Carlo Menotti's (1911-2007) Amahl and the Night Visitors unfurled and
thrilled. Menotti was commissioned by Peter Herman Adler, director of NBC television's new
opera programming, to write a Christmas opera. Menotti was perplexed by this sublime
challenge as the months went by. While visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art one
November day, he chanced upon the Hieronymus Bosch painting of "The Adoration of the
Magi." Recalling his youth in Italy, awaiting the Christmas gifts with his brother by the Three
Kings, the opera came to him. It was completed just in time and was such a hit that it was
repeated for many years. The great Arturo Toscanini who conducted the NBC Symphony for
17 years, told Menotti with great emotion, that Amahl was his finest work! It was first seen
on television on December 24, 1951. My father Santo, who was a hard working man, but
knew little about opera, told me, a young opera lover and tenor, how much he enjoyed this
opera after seeing it on television.
Maestro Dr. Claudia Dumschat, with the Transfiguration Choir of Men and Boys and the
Lumines Girls Choir and Camerata and the 15 piece orchestra, were now ready for this
timeless masterwork. It was written when TV executives in those halcyon days of yesterday,
wanted their audience to have the best of classical music. Today, it seems to be the
opposite, where like Christmas, the very word "classical" is treated with indifference as
Amahl and the Night Visitors is a captivating story about a poor little crippled boy who lives
with his widowed mother in a small village. Amahl is playing his reed or shepherds pipe in
the warmly melodic prelude. Amahl is a fibber and his mother is impatient with his stories.
She says that since they are so poor, they will have to go begging. She cries and he sings,
"Don't Cry Mother Dear," trying to cheer her up with happy stories about how they will
survive. On this night, he tells her of a star that he has seen in the sky with a big tail. When
they are sleeping, there is a knock on the door. Amahl tells his Mother incredulously that
there is a king at the door. With more knocks, Amahl tells her there are "Three Kings - and
one of them is black!" The Kings tell Amahl's Mother they are seeking a child, "Have you
seen a child," who will be a Savior to the world. Their voices blend beautifully in this
wondrous piece. The Kings ask to rest and stay for the night and Amahl asks them several
poignant questions about their lives. When they ask him what he does, Amahl tells them
that "I was a Shepherd, I had a flock of Sheep." Amahl's Mother sends him to fetch the
villagers and ask them to bring food and to dance for them. They sing "The Shepherd's
Song," or "Emily, Emily, Michael, Bartholomew." After the villagers leave, Amahl asks the
most gripping question of all, "amongst your magic stones in your box, is there one that can
cure a crippled boy?" To which King Kasper who is deaf, says "eh?"
Amahl's Mother tries to steal some of the gold ("All That Gold") when the Kings are sleeping
but is caught by their Paige. Amahl fiercely defends his mother who wants to return the gold
to the Kings. The Kings tell her that the Child they seek will not need their gold. His life will
be based on love. Amahl offers his crutch as a gift to the child. Suddenly, a miracle occurs
and he is walking and kicking up his heels! He runs up and down the aisles and trips just
once. The Kings ask if they can touch him and he lets them. When the Paige asks also,
Amahl says "Well, I don't know if I will let YOU touch me," but relents and says "alright!"
when his Mother scolds him. Amahl is asked by the Kings to join them on their journey to
follow the star and find the Child they seek. Amahl and his Mother sing a touching duet and
the opening theme is repeated as they fade away.
The role of the Mother was brilliantly sung by Jodi Karem whose powerhouse soprano was
overwhelming in her portrayal. Her singing in duet with Amahl "Don't Cry Mother Dear," was
tender and her dramatic Puccinian "All that Gold" was superb. Earlier in "Have you seen a
child" she reached emotional and vocal heights that set the pulse racing and the emotional
barometer practically bursting. She tapered her volume to blend richly with her Amahl and
sang with passion in her arias. Ms. Karem is truly a gem!
Amahl, played by 11 year old Luciano Pantano, was also as good as it gets! He is grandson
to Judy and myself, his parents are Marcello (drummer) and Tatyana (Russian - Chorus
Conductor). His Russian grandparents, Nikolay and Lubov Klitsenko teach bayan (Russian
accordion) and chorus in Omsk, Russia. I was a boy tenor in Bensonhurst and Judy sang
"The Shepherds Chorus" from Amahl at her college choir in California. Luciano Pantano
seems to be an amalgam of all these gifts. His beautiful treble voice gained in power, his
acting from faces to heel kicks were notable and unforgettable. His "shepherd/sheep" song
was poignant, his duets with his mother, "Don't cry Mother dear" touching and he made for
a dynamic and crutch worthy Amahl. Luciano's running down the Church aisle and doing two
impromptu heel kicks were worthy of Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly.
King Melchior was in the regal hands of baritone Jake Ingbar. He has been assisted by the
Gerda Lissner Foundation and the George London Foundation. His robust and mellow
baritone made for a king one could have confidence in. His voice was vital in the blending
trio that is so haunting and beautiful."Do you know a Child...."
King Kaspar, Ben Thomas was captivating. His bird (parrot) has more bite than sprite and
his hearing is not so good. His joyous shouts of "Lovely, lovely, lovely" were happily hurled
to all and his powerful tenor and befuddled antics were a source of much theatrical
pleasure. King Kaspar's robust and clarion singing of "This is my box" with all his gems was
one of the highlights.
King Balthazar was made into a noble whole by the rich voiced bass-baritone of veteran
Charles Samuel Brown whose regal countenance was always infused with dignity worthy of
royalty and whose insightful inner spirit was the fuel on the journey toward the Child.
The Paige, Alexis Cordero is 18 years old and a ten year singer with the choir. He sang and
acted his part with a powerful bass and we enjoyed his wanting to touch the miracle child
The choir, which includes our lovely grand daughter Leeza, beautifully sang "The Shepherds
Song" or "Emily, Emily, Michael, Bartholomew," with elan and fullness, all in peasant
The dancers, Ambar and Charles Rosario, Savannah Spratt and Mark Willis were graceful
and lively, giving us many memorable moments and regaling us with their grace and stylish
The superb colorful costumes by Terri Bush were a source of delight. Jesse Obremski was
the choreographer who made the audience aware of the high quality peasant dancing.
Stage manager Betty Howe had several venues to fill and each one was where the action
sparkled with balance and precision.
Richard Olson was the Director who brought out the nuance and sadness into a full portrait
masterpiece. He is also husband to Claudia Dumschat.
Maestro Claudia Dunschat transformed notes and desires into vital reality and gave us a
unified performance of harmony and balance. It made the Church of the Transfiguration
(The Little Church Around the Corner) that snowy Christmas evening, a place of magic with
the peace and love so needed in the world in the form of a perfect singing ensemble
sustained by a superbly fulfilling orchestra and a sublime conductor.
Blessed are the peacemakers for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven! And blessed be these
"peacemakers" for bringing the magnificent talent of Gian-Carlo Menotti back to a world that
thirsts for the beauty and love and the message Amahl offers. The SRO audience responded
with great enthusiasm. The reception afterwards was fun to meet and greet with something
sweet was in itself a Christmas treat that couldn't be beat! Bravo to all!
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