Several years ago there was a robbery at a shopping mall in Atlanta. Someone stole a pickup truck and, in the middle of the night, drove it through the glass doors of a department store then started loading it with anything they could grab. They got away long before the police answered the alarm but they were later caught.
All of the newspapers reported it the next day but the headline in one of the smaller papers read “A Mall and the Night Visitors”.
That’s my clever segue into this piece about James Rainbird and his role as Amahl in the Gian-Carlo Menotti opera Amahl and the Night Visitors. I know that June is a little early to be listening to Christmas music but I feel like talking about James Rainbird and he doesn’t have very many recordings to choose from.
Anyway, the story is about a poor, crippled shepherd boy and his mother who receive a visit from the Magi who were traveling to Bethlehem, following the star. They asked if they could rest there in their humble home. The Magi tell them about the baby that is newly born and explain that they are taking gifts to him. Amahl wants to send a gift too, but he owns nothing except his crutch so he decides to take that to the child. It shouldn’t be a surprise that having announced his intention he was miraculously healed and could walk again and everyone is happy.
This was obviously written for kids, but even so I’ll bet a lot of them wondered why Jesus needed a crutch. He hadn’t even started walking yet and if he happened, for some reason, to become lame he could surely heal himself in the blink of an eye. Also, the Magi are pretty silly, especially the one with the parrot.
Despite the simple story line the highlight of the show is young James Rainbird. His singing is clear and sharp and he says his lines distinctly, convincingly and with a natural ease. He’s obviously comfortable on the stage. There is a scene where he hobbles to the door and sees the three Kings standing outside. He gasps loudly, knowing that his mother is never going to believe him when he tells her who is outside. He does it in a way that makes me laugh. It’s really charming.
I suppose there are other people in the play but they are not important. James steals the show; even Menotti said that he was marvelous.
This version of the opera was recorded in 1988 and was directed by Menotti himself, who also was present for the recording of this CD. It features the chorus and orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.
I don’t know what it is but I love to listen to James Rainbird’s voice, singing or talking. He was the first boy soloist that I noticed and I still rank him at the top of my list of favorites. He had a wonderful range and could sing loudly or softly and always with that great boyish quality in his voice.
I shouldn’t do this but I'll end with a bad joke.
It seems a woman gave birth to twin boys but was so poor she had to give them up for adoption. Years later she regretted her decision and now, no longer poor, she hired a private detective to track them down so she could know that they were both doing well. The detective came back with news for her.
“One boy was adopted by a Spanish couple. They named him Juan and he seems to be very happy. Here is a photo of him.
The other boy was adopted by a couple from the middle-east. They named him Amahl and he too is in a loving home.”
She asked, “Don’t you have a picture of him?”
The detective said, “Why? They’re identical. If you’ve seen Juan you’ve seen Amahl”.