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A CHRISTMAS SONG AND DANCE.

Byline: Fred Crafts The Register-Guard

Don't look now, but Gian Carlo Menotti's popular one-act holiday opera "Amahl and the Night Visitors" has just become a ballet.

Choreographed by University of Oregon assistant dance professor Amy Stoddard, the heartwarming story of a lame shepherd boy's encounter with the Three Kings will be danced - and sung and played - at the Eugene Symphony's Holiday Concert on Friday. It is the result of one of the largest collaborations ever between the orchestra and the University of Oregon School of Music and Dance.

From the campus will come 33 student performers - plus four faculty members - to join the 40-piece orchestra, guest conducted by Scott Terrell, at the Hult Center's Silva Concert Hall.

`` `Amahl' is a universally loved opera. It is one of the most often performed operas of the 20th century. Its music and message are very approachable," Eugene Symphony conductor Giancarlo Guerrero says.

Guerrero spearheaded the project, even though he will be unable to conduct it, as he will be conducting the Minnesota Orchestra's performance of Ludwig van Beethoven's Ninth Symphony on Dec. 12-14.

"I first came in contact with `Amahl' in 1984 in Costa Rica, where I played in the pit orchestra in a production that involved singers and dancers," he says. "It was a huge hit because its message of joy and merry feelings was very relevant to Costa Ricans."

During his short stay in Eugene, Guerrero has already spent a considerable amount of time at the UO, meeting with faculty and students. He believed a collaboration would be "a wonderful opportunity to bring the U of O and the Eugene Symphony closer together."

In pulling together a consortium of UO faculty members - vocal director Mark Kaczmarzyck, choral director Sharon Paul and choreographer Stoddard - Guerrero suggested not only singing the opera but dancing it as well, which would give it a vastly different look without sacrificing its musical integrity.

In this version, the characters will be sung by vocalists - standing near the orchestra and the UO Chamber Choir, at the rear of the stage - but portrayed by dancers on the front third of the stage, near the audience.

Menotti's opera has quickly become one of the staples of Christmas literature, getting thousands of performances around the world.

And no wonder, Kaczmar- zyck says, for Menotti has created a truly special opera with "long-standing appeal and viability. It has incredibly beautiful tunes. The audience is just going to be walking out of the hall humming these tunes."

Also on their minds will be Stoddard's choreography.

"This is a very new way of looking at `Amah' ' she says, noting that her biggest challenge was keeping the dancing flowing while the singers told the story.

"I didn't want it to be literal pantomime. I wanted it to be more organized movement that didn't necessarily give a literal translation to the words the singers are singing. I didn't want it to be quite so predicable," she says.

"It's been a challenge to find a way to move through that or sometimes with it or sometimes consciously against it, to act as texture against what you see and what you hear."

Stoddard has tried to tell the story the way Menotti intended - through the eyes of the young shepherd boy. But often that gives the opera a skewed perspective.

"We sometimes get this very harsh, aggressive, almost nasty mother who seems to be harping and coming down in a hard way on Amahl, then sometimes seems a very caring, passionate mother. It feels a bit schizophrenic for the person playing the mother, but I've tried to give a sense of all of these characters from Amahl's perspective."

Key to any performance of "Amahl and the Night Visitors," which is sung in English, is having a gifted singer create the title role, and Kaczmarzyck says this production has one of the best - 12-year-old Sam Rowan, a seventh-grader at Roosevelt Middle School in Eugene.

"He's great. Great kid. Lots of stage presence. Wonderful, wonderful voice. Just to be able to hear that type of pure boy soprano voice live - which you don't get to hear that often - is just a great experience," Kaczmarzyck says.

A gifted swimmer as well as a singer, Rowan sings with the Oregon Children's Choir's Oregon Boy Choir and with the First United Methodist Church Choir.

As a testament to Rowan's vocal prowess, he was one of 33 boys from across the nation accepted into the American Boychoir this year, although he believes he will turn it down. Until now, his biggest role had been as a choirboy in the Eugene Opera's "Tosca" two years ago.

"Singing came naturally to me," Rowan says. "I've sung all my life. This part is right in my range."

Confident but humble, Rowan is enjoying being able to sing with adults.

"It's amazing to be in the presence of these professionals," he says, adding that he has to keep in mind that "when I'm singing I'm not Sam Rowan, I'm Amahl the shepherd boy."

Other roles will be sung by UO undergraduate and graduate students: soprano Jennifer Bacon (Mother), tenor Andrew Brock (Kaspar), baritone Gene Chin (Melchoir), bass Greg Barkett (Balthazar) and bass Andrew Sauvagau (Page).

Dancing these roles will be Sarah Adler (Amahl); Sarah Nemecek (Mother); Marco Davis (Page); Larry Sutton, Darrell Kau and Walker Kenny (Three Kings); and Corrie Cowart, Tavis Crocker, David Crow, Monica Graves, Chela Marx, Candace Ofcacek and Meg Perkins (Peasants).

"We're always looking for opportunities for our very best students to gain professional performance experience," Kaczmarzyck says. "To be in the Hult Center four days in a row, two nights of piano rehearsals, learning to work with a new conductor, learning to work with an orchestra, learning to interact with what's going on in dance in front of you - this is terrific.

"It's really a terrific multi-media, multi-disciplinary event. You can't learn that in a classroom."

Reach Fred Crafts at 338-2575 or fcrafts@guardnet.com.

CONCERT PREVIEW

Amahl and

the Night Visitors

What: American composer Gian Carlo Menotti's one-act opera will be sung (in English) and danced by University of Oregon students and played by the Eugene Symphony Orchestra, guest conducted by Scott Terrell

When: 8 p.m. Friday

Where: The Hult Center, Silva Concert Hall, Seventh Avenue and Willamette Street

How much: $15-$28, through the Hult Center box office (682-5000)

CAPTION(S):

Sam Rowan, a Eugene seventh-grader, sings the lead in the UO-Eugene Symphony production of ``Amahl and the Night Visitors.'' Amy Stoddard, a University of Oregon assistant dance professor, choreographed the opera ``Amahl.'' ``I didn't want it to be literal pantomime. ... It's been a challenge,'' she says. ``To hear that type of pure boy soprano voice live ... is just a great experience.''- MARK KACZMARZYCK, UO VOCAL DIRECTOR
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Title Annotation:Entertainment; UO music school and Eugene Symphony collaborate to rework the popular holiday opera `Amahl' into a dance
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Dec 7, 2003
Words:1127
Previous Article:Choirs give voice to the holidays.
Next Article:PERFORMANCE NOTES.


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