Friday, December 08, 2006

Advent 5 and 6: Have You Seen a Child?

I've been indulging in one of my favorite holiday pastimes and listening to a recording of Amahl and the Night Visitors (while I washed down the kitchen floor in a house where plaster dust reigns supreme -- okay, no evening is perfect).

Amahl was a favorite in a childhood that was on the short side. We must have seen it on television once or twice in the 50s, and my father took my brother and I to a production in Cincinnati in the early 60s. I'm guessing 1962, as I remember that I promptly memorized most of the score from the record album jacket. I sang it to myself over and over as I wandered the dusty paths around the Florida cottages where my brother and I spent much of the following March with our grandparents while our father was off marrying Stepmother No. 1. I was nine, and the marriage was an unwelcome one from my perspective.

Oddly, Amahl, maybe because of his own status as a child of loss and resiliency, never lost his magic for me. For years I insisted that my own children settle down to watch a video production each December, and a few years ago we all went to see a wonderful production at the Institute of Music here. It never grows old.

If you aren't familiar with this little operetta written for children, I urge you to pick up a CD and sit down for an hour to listen with the script in hand. From the humor of the impoverished young boy who can't bring himself to come in from the night where he is mesmerized by "a star as large as a window," moving across the sky "like a chariot on fire," to the frustration of the skeptical mother who tells him to try telling the truth "for a change," to the perplexing arrival of the three kings, among them Caspar with his box of beads and stones and licorice, to the mixed motives among the small cast of characters that finally yield up the first miracle of Christmas -- it's a wonderful production.

the haunting quartet sung by mother and kings (click on number 14) captures the essence of the moment both out of and in time that we celebrate this month:

Have you seen a child the color of wheat, the color of dawn?
His eyes are mild, His hands are those of a King, as King he was born.
Incense, myrrh and gold we bring to his side,
and the Eastern star is our guide.

Yes, I know a child, the color of wheat, the color of dawn.
His eyes are mild, his hands are those of a King, as King he was born.
But no one will bring him incense or gold, though sick and poor and hungry and cold.
He's my child, my son, my darling, my own.


Laura said...

I've never heard of it before, but thanks to you I will look for it.

Quotidian Grace said...

I remember seeing this performed a couple of times by professional and church groups and that it was on tv. It's a nice little piece--wonder why we don't hear it anymore?

Kathryn said...

Do you know if this is on video at all? I know that's a pathetic substitute for a live performance but I've never seen it offered here. I'd like to introduce it to my children.