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Three Kings (l-r) - Daniel Reem as Melchior, Samuel Essling as Kaspar and Daniel Brakefield as Balthazar.
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WIU Presents One-Act Holiday Opera Dec. 11-12

December 1, 2009

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MACOMB, IL - - Enjoy the wonderment of the season with "Amahl and the Night Visitors" by the Western Illinois University Opera Theatre at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Dec. 11-12 in the Hainline Theatre.

According to Rebecca Kreider, director of Western's Opera Theatre and stage director for "Amahl," the one-act holiday opera that the entire family can enjoy answers the question "What could have transpired if the Three Kings had stopped to rest at a poor boy's home on their journey to Bethlehem?"

Two Macomb elementary school children sing the title role of Amahl, a crippled boy with an overactive imagination: Evan Baker of St. Paul School and Sophie Walker of Edison School. He is always meeting unusual creatures and seeing fantastic sights, so when he tells his mother, sung by senior music major Chelsea Maroney (Arlington Heights, IL) and graduate music student Nicole Lanier (Hainesville, IL), about the great star in the sky and the three kings knocking on their door, she scolds him for his tall tales. However, the three kings enter into Amahl's world and change it forever.

Composer Gian Carlo Menotti fills his score with graceful and emotional music. He also throws in a dash of humor with his depiction of the three kings: the childlike Kaspar, sung by sophomore music major Samuel Essling (Elburn, IL); the compassionate Melchior, sung by senior music major Daniel Reem (Macomb); and double-cast as the more practical Balthazar are sophomore music major Daniel Brakefield (Macomb) and sophomore recreation park and tourism administration major Denver Murphy (Marion, IL). Freshman music major Chrystopher Wilson (Peoria, IL) performs the role of the kings' page.

Baker and Walker were awarded the role of Amahl last April after an extensive audition process, Kreider said. They had weekly vocal lessons with WIU Associate Professor of Voice Terry Chasteen.

"He kept helping me until I got it. I learned to breathe, and you get a lot bigger sound that way," said Walker about her voice lessons.

Baker and Walker began rehearsals with the WIU Opera Theatre singers in September.

"I like acting and singing with the Three Kings the best. They're funny, especially Kaspar," said Baker.

Walker said she likes acting because "I get to be a different person. It's kinda cool seeing what it's like to be a boy. I'm already sort of a tomboy so it doesn't feel that different."

As for performing for an audience, Baker said: "I'm going to be a little nervous, but the theatre doesn't seem as big when you're on the stage." Walker said: "My mom taught me a trick - - act like the audience isn't there."

The chorus of villagers is sung by WIU's Madrigal Singers, conducted by Director of Choral Activities James Stegall. Dancers Keri Dahm (Hanover Park, IL), a junior psychology major, and Eileen O'Connor (Evergreen Park, IL), a senior musical theatre major, with child dancers Bella and Gibson Blankenship, perform the "Villagers' Dance," choreographed by Denise Brakefield.

Music is by Western's University Orchestra, directed by Richard Hughey.

At each production, the WIU Opera Theatre will raffle two three-box gift sets containing the "original gifts of Christmas:" gold, frankincense and myrrh. Each gift set is authentically sourced from the Mideastern Arabian regions that were the historical origin of the kings' gifts. All proceeds from the raffle will go to the McDonough County Loaves and Fishes organization.

The production of "Amahl and the Night Visitors" is made possible by generous donations from the Performing Arts Society and Citizens Bank.

"Amahl and the Night Visitors" was the first opera ever to be commissioned for television. It made its debut on NBC on Christmas Eve 1951. It was so well-received that it became an annual Christmas tradition, broadcast every year until 1966, according to Kreider.

For tickets, $15 public and $12 seniors and WIU students, contact the Hainline Theatre Box Office at (309) 298-2900 from noon-5 p.m. weekdays.

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