Dec. 18 , 2006

The true meaning of Christmas

By Kelsey Linden
Staff Writer

The Delano Catholic Community is alive with the Christmas spirit as they performed their opera “Amahl and the Night Visitors.”

Over the four performances, approximately 850 people viewed the show.

Sunday night, Archbishop Harry J. Flynn was the guest of honor. Because of his visit, there was a special dinner planned after the performance.

Only anticipating 160 for dinner, the cast was amazed when close to 200 were served that night.

The story

Sung in English, the one-act opera is set during the time of Jesus’ birth, inside a poor mother’s house. There, she and her crippled boy, Amahl, live.

Amahl is curious and very spirited. One night, they are visited by the three kings, who rest awhile in their house before continuing on their journey to find the baby Jesus.

With the riches of the three kings present in her house, the mother is compelled to steal the gold for Amahl’s own health.

Caught in the act by the Page, noble Amahl defends his mother and gives up a hand-made piece for the baby Jesus.

In a stir of the moment, Amahl walks for the first time in his life, proving that miracles do happen and that the baby Jesus is the son of God.

Changes in the air

Having already done this production two years earlier, it was easier for the cast to relearn and remember the music. However, the production was far from the same.

Doug Voerding, a seventh grade English teacher, joined the production staff this year as the stage director.

With directing some of the stage productions at St. Mary’s High School, Voerding was pleased to admit that “it’s enjoyable to work with adults for a change.”

After seeing the production two years ago, Voerding was eager to volunteer. He sought the production as “an added challenge,” because he had never done an opera before.

Now, with some of the weight shifted from his shoulders, musical director Joseph Henry felt that this year was slightly less stressful.

Music captured Henry early in life, and took him to attend Manhattan School of Music and the Cleveland Institute of Music, in hopes of taking his talent on the piano and organ to a greater use.

Astounded by the work of the volunteers, Henry was quick to comment about the newly designed stage by Tony and Linda Schaust,

“You couldn’t even pay people to do that,” Henry said.

In contrast to 2004, where the production was performed on the church’s altar; this year’s production was raised up several feet to give the effect of an actual stage for the cast and the audience.

Victor Anderson, a shepherd in the production, also commented, “Designing the set to fit into the sanctuary of the church in such an impressive display is just testimony to the arts and crafts people we have in the parish.”

For the most part, the roles were assigned to the same actors and actresses, aside from Delano’s Joseph McDonald, who took on the role as the Page.

McDonald was thrilled to become a part of the production as it was a prime example of “The Christmas Story.”

When the question arose as to why the cast remained the same, Henry explained, we wanted to “give them a chance to do it again.”

With all the changes made within two years, Henry thought it would be fair to give his actors and actresses a chance to really evolve into their characters.

Two years ago, “we were happy because we could just do it,” said Mike Schaefer (King Melchior).

“It was particularly exciting this time because we’re taking it up a notch,” Kubista said.

Father to daughter to mother

When asked what it was like working with her father, Gabrielle Arthur (Amahl) stated, “having him know what it’s like – he can help me.”

In regards to her mother, she also was quick to add, “She can help me in anything I do.”

Jeremy Arthur can attest to his daughter’s thoughts, “It’s fantastic. The greatest thing for me is working with her.”

Gabrielle was also quick to address the fight scene, when the mother is caught stealing the gold. As an actress, it was difficult for her to tackle the Page (McDonald) to the ground.

“The first time we tried to do the scene, he bruised Peg (Janisch),” she said.

The fight scene was not as physical the first time around, which made the scene more difficult, but it certainly built the intensity that led towards the actual miracle.

Janisch commented, “Amahl did something very rash and impulsive. That takes nerve.”

Margaret “Peg” Janisch, who played the role of the mother, felt moved by her character – especially during the scene where she, as the mother of the poor, crippled Amahl, debates whether she should steal the gold for her child.

Janisch wonders what she would do if she were in that situation.

“It’s my desire to make my character more authentic than the first time around,” Janisch said.

Alice Fink, a shepherd in the production, said, “You almost want to cry when he gets rid of his crutches” and walks for the first time.

Janisch added, “I think so many of us think miracles don’t happen, but they do. We all have a story to tell, this is just giving us a chance to say “what if” to this story.”

As meaningful as the opera was, it meant even more on the closing performance when grades nine through 11 religious education students came to see it.

What makes the story so special?

Based on the Christmas story, is there any wonder why so many were touched by the miracle?

Janisch believed, “There is something in this story that touches people’s hearts.”

Adding to what Janisch said, Jeremy Arthur described the exact magic that exists in the play. The overall message is heart-warming.

With the holiday season right around the corner, “It’s such a classic story for Christmas. It encompasses the exact reason of Christmas,” insinuated Kubista.

Gabrielle smiled as she added, “It’s just a really good way to celebrate Christmas.”

Judith Stein (a shepherd in the production) replied, “We don’t have to go into the elaborate productions to get the true meaning across,” the true meaning of Christmas.

Christmas is a time to act as Jesus once did, hospitably, generously, and caringly.

McDonald concluded in saying, “People are finding the way to put Christ back into Christmas, and this is the way to do it.”

It’s a season for giving and the Delano Catholic Community was more than pleased to present “Amahl and the Night Visitors,” as it was “a perfect display of the true meaning of Christmas.”

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