"Amahl and The Night Visitors" 

Three Ancient Kings

For nearly 40 years, thousands of Richmond children have been enchanted by a simple story and unforgettable music on the first Sunday afternoon in December. The lights again will dim in the Richmond Landmark Theater Dec. 5 at 4 p.m., as children and their parents are transported 2,000 years back in time to a well-known starry night in a place not far from Bethlehem where three fantastic kings astride camels are nearing the end of a long journey.

This is technically an opera, but you wouldn't know it. True, all the lines are sung rather than spoken, but they're in English, and they are lovely lines — full of comedy, of heartache, and the story one of loss and redemption as old as time.

This is a children's story, but you wouldn't know that, either. It's one of those beloved greats of word and song — such as "The Wizard of Oz" and "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" — that cross the boundaries of childhood, Written in a moment of inspiration by Gian-Carlo Menotti in 1951 for an NBC Christmas Special, "Amahl and the Night Visitors" is a mere 45 minutes in length, but that's quite enough to weave a tale the heart will never forget.

One of the nicest things about this year's performance of "Amahl and the Night Visitors" is that it's free, as it has been every year since the Richmond Parks and Recreation Department first staged it a generation ago.

Some 2,000 parents and children delight in the performance each year, captivated by the music performed by a full orchestra of local professional musicians and a chorus of local singers under the direction of Diana Covington. George Macklin Jr., who first joined the performance as King Balthazar in 1964, now directs the opera, and this year, theatergoers will enjoy Kara Charise Harman performance as Amahl's mother, Harold J. Haughton Sr. as Balthazar, Kirk Morton as Melchior, and Marc D. Graham as Kaspar. The seasoned 11-year-old Michael Williams, a student at Robius Middle School, will return for his third year as Amahl.

All the performers of the opera volunteer their time, and many have returned for more than 20 years to perform this special piece for the holiday season. It's their king's gift to the people of Richmond — and it's from the


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