Amahl and the Night Visitors is an opera in one act by Gian Carlo Menotti on an original English libretto by the composer. It was first performed on 24 December 1951 in New York City, at the NBC studios, where it was broadcast on television. It was the first opera specifically composed for television.
The opera is now a popular Christmas classic. Amahl is full of humour, wonder, and drama, and the music is tuneful and charming. These qualities make it a favorite to introduce opera, as a genre, to children.
Amahl is a disabled boy who, although he has a kind and pleasant heart, has a problem with telling tall tales and, occasionally, lies. Because of this his mother does not believe him one evening when he tells her that there is an amazing star "as big as a window." Later that night, there is a knock at the door and his mother tells him to go see who it is. He is amazed when he sees three splendidly dressed kings (obviously the Magi). They tell the mother and Amahl that they are on a long journey to give gifts to a wondrous child, and that they would like to rest at Amahl's house. The mother agrees, suspecting that the child they seek may be Amahl. She goes to fetch all of her neighbors, so that the kings may be fed and entertained properly. Later that night, however, the mother, being poor and also sickened at the thought of her child being a beggar, attempts to steal some gold that was meant for the Christ Child, but is thwarted by the Kings' Page. Upon seeing Amahl's weak defense of his mother, and realizing the mother's motives for the attempted theft, King Melchior says she may keep the gold, as the Holy Child will not need earthly power or wealth to build his kingdom. The mother says that knowing of the Child's greatness, she wishes to send a gift but has nothing to send. Amahl, too, has nothing to give the Christ Child except his crutch, but he offers it, and as he does so, his leg is healed, and he joyfully leaves his mother and goes off with the three kings to see the child and give thanks for being healed.
Amahl and the Night Visitors was the first Christmas special to become an annual television tradition. From 1951 until 1966, it was presented on NBC (which commissioned Gian-Carlo Menotti to write it) on or around Christmas Eve. For years it was presented live, but in 1963 it was videotaped with an all-new cast, and this version was shown from 1963 to 1966. After 1966, it seemed to have been retired from television, but in 1978, a new production, starring Teresa Stratas as Amahl's mother, was filmed by NBC, partly on location in the Holy Land. It, however, did not become an annual tradition the way the 1951 and 1963 versions had. This 1978 production is the only one released on video, but Cast recordings of both the 1951 and the 1963 productions were recorded by RCA Victor, and the 1951 cast recording was released on compact disc. The 1963 recording of "Amahl" was the first recording of the opera made in stereo.
There has also recently been a British television production of the opera (in 2002), but this production has not been broadcast in the U.S. as of 2006.
A fragment of special effects footage created for an early 1960s BBC Television production of Amahl and the Night Visitors was used as the first shot of the opening title sequence of the famous science-fiction series Doctor Who for its first three years from 1963 to 1966.citation needed