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Christmas-Themed Opera Presented by Loyola University

07:00 December 01, 2023
By: Amelia Hervey

Debut Opera by Ricky Graham at Loyola

Loyola University New Orleans' School of Music and Theatre Professions takes great pride in showcasing Amahl and the Night Visitors, featuring the debut opera direction of esteemed local actor and director Ricky Graham.

The show is scheduled for December 9 at 7:30 p.m. and December 10 at 2 p.m. at Loyola's Holy Name of Jesus Church. Tickets are $20 for adults, $15 for senior citizens and Loyola faculty and staff, and $8 for students. Children 10 years and younger can attend for free. Tickets are available for purchase online on Loyola's website.

The People Behind the Opera

Melissa Marshall, a musical theatre voice instructor at Loyola University and a New Orleans native, enlisted her longtime friend Graham to direct Amahl and the Night Visitors. The opera, a family-friendly tale, follows a shepherd boy who accompanies the Three Kings on their journey to Bethlehem. Despite being renowned for his comedic portrayals of New Orleans life, particularly in ...And the Ball and All, Graham, with over 50 years in the local theater scene, discovered his passion for opera in his 20s.

Graham, having had directed plays and musicals at Loyola including The Tempest, Tintypes, and The Money Box, stated that "[i]n [his] mind [he] staged a beautiful production of Salome starring Glenda Jackson," and that "[t]he closest [he] got to directing an opera was directing The Mikado for the Jefferson Performing Arts Society."

Although Graham has not officially directed an operatic production, he is well-versed in calling the shots in plays and musicals and is ready to take on the unique challenge of directing opera.

"Directing an opera is different because, technically, since everything is sung, it may take a little longer for an action to happen," Graham said in a press release. "How do you make that action seem realistic when you're holding a note for three measures?"

Soprano Journey Schaubhut, a Loyola graduate and interim director of the Loyola Preparatory Arts Program, takes on the role of Amahl, while Melissa Marshall plays his mother. Other characters in the Christmas-themed opera are portrayed by Loyola faculty, students, and alumni. The production, tailored for children, is a one-act performance with a duration of 54 minutes, as highlighted by Tyler Smith, the area coordinator of classical voice faculty at Loyola.

Loyola University is staging Amahl and the Night Visitors for the first time in decades, with Melissa Marshall's connection to the role dating back to her mother's portrayal of it at Loyola. Director Graham chose the Holy Name of Jesus Church for its festive holiday decor and acoustics, which are suitable for the opera. The production is conducted by Dreux Montegut, a voice professor at Loyola, and is financially supported by the Ranney and Emel Songu Mize Professorship in Opera. Additionally, members of the Loyola Chorale will be part of the performance.

The initial airing of Amahl and the Night Visitors took place on Christmas Eve 1951 on NBC, marking the United States' first televised opera. NBC enlisted the renowned Italian composer Gian Carlo Menotti to create the opera as part of the network's introduction of new opera programming.

Kate Duncan, director of the School of Music and Theatre Professions and the Conrad N. Hilton Chair in Music Industry, said that "[t]his production is emblematic of what we are doing here at Loyola," and that "[i]n its first iteration, the opera was an adaptation of a known art form to a new technology. Similarly, students across all disciplines within the school are learning how their artistic craft applies to the creative spaces not only of today, but of tomorrow as well."

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