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Loyola University New Orleans presents ‘Amahl and the Night Visitors,’ a Christmas-themed opera directed by local theater veteran Ricky Graham

By Loyola University on Mon, 11/27/2023 - 11:12

The School of Music and Theatre Professions at Loyola University is proud to present ‘Amahl and the Night Visitors,’ with prominent local actor and director Ricky Graham helming his first-ever opera Dec. 9 and 10 at Holy Name of Jesus Church, on the Loyola campus.

Melissa Marshall, a New Orleans native and Loyola graduate who is a musical theatre voice instructor in the Department of Theatre Arts and Dance, brought her longtime friend Graham aboard to direct ‘Amahl,’ a family-friendly story about a shepherd boy who joins the Three Kings on their way to Bethlehem.

Graham, who has been a staple of the local theater scene for more than 50 years, is perhaps best-known for his comedic observations of life in New Orleans in ‘... And the Ball and All,’ which depicts Who Dats and the spirit of Carnival. Yet, Graham said his interest in opera began to flourish in his 20s.

“In my mind I staged a beautiful production of Salome starring Glenda Jackson,” said Graham, who has directed plays and musicals at Loyola including ‘The Tempest,’ ‘Tintypes’ and ‘The Money Box.’ “The closest I got to directing an opera was directing The Mikado for the Jefferson Performing Arts Society.”

Until now, that is. Though Graham is well-versed in calling the shots during a play or musical, he said leading an operatic production presents a unique challenge because of the style of the music.

“Directing an opera is different because, technically, since everything is sung, it may take a little longer for an action to happen,” he said. “How do you make that action seem realistic when you’re holding a note for three measures?”
Soprano Journey Schaubhut, a Loyola graduate and interim director of the Loyola Preparatory Arts Program, plays the part of Amahl, with Marshall playing his mother. Loyola faculty, students and alumni play the other roles.

The Christmas-themed opera is performed in one act, with a running time of 54 minutes, and is specifically aimed at children, said Tyler Smith, area coordinator of the classical voice faculty at Loyola.

The school is producing ‘Amahl’ for the first time in several decades, with Smith noting that Marshall’s mother once played the role of Amahl at Loyola. And Graham noted that Holy Name of Jesus is the ideal setting for the opera, as it is decorated for the holidays and the acoustics in a church are perfect for this type of performance.

Dreux Montegut, voice professor at Loyola and former longtime music director at St. Louis Cathedral, is conducting the opera, which is being financed in part by the Ranney and Emel Songu Mize Professorship in Opera. Members of the Loyola Chorale also will perform.

‘Amahl and the Night Visitors’ premiered on Christmas Eve 1951 on NBC as the first televised opera in the United States. The network commissioned Gian Carlo Menotti, an acclaimed Italian composer, to write the first opera for television as part of NBC’s new opera programming.

“This production is emblematic of what we are doing here at Loyola,” said Kate Duncan, Director of the School of Music and Theatre Professions and the Conrad N. Hilton Chair in Music Industry.

Performances will take place Dec. 9 at 7:30 p.m. and Dec. 10 at 2 p.m. at Holy Name of Jesus Church. Tickets are $20 for adults, $15 for senior citizens and Loyola faculty and staff, and $8 for students. Children 10 and younger are free. To purchase tickets, visit http://cmm.loyno.edu/loyola-presents/buy-tickets.