Revival of a Production of Amahl and the Night Visitors

My son and I spent an enjoyable hour in Des Moines’ Hoyt Sherman Place auditorium this past Saturday afternoon watching the Des Moines Metro Opera’s revival of their Amahl and the Night Visitors.  Of all of the traditional holiday Christmas fare (ranging from Nutcrackers to Christmas Carols) this is one of my favorite seasonal offerings.  I should probably admit that I am biased.  In 2003 the  Des Moines Metro Opera contracted me to design the setting of what was then conceived to be their semi-annual production of the 1-hour opera for the newly remodeled Hoyt Sherman Place theatre venue.  While this weekend was only the 3rd staging of the  production, 10 years has passed since I designed it and I was pleasantly surprised by how well the set itself has held up.  It was almost like visiting an old friend.

2003 DMMO Production Photo of Amahal and the Night Visitors

2003 DMMO Production Photo of Amahl and the Night Visitors

That visit actually began the Thursday before when DMMO production manager Chris Brusburg contacted me for help in dressing the set.  The tapestries draped on the rear and stage left walls of the set require some care to get them to appear aesthetically casual.  Using the image above, it took me a little over the hour (requiring working from an 8′ and a 12′ stepladder) to recreate the look from the fabric elements stored with the set.

For those who are not familiar with the Menotti opera, Amahl and the Night Visitors tells the story of the Magi’s visit to a humble cottage on the way to visit the Christ child.  At the end of their overnight visit a miracle  occurs when a crippled boy (the title character) offers to give the baby Jesus his crutch after his mother is tempted to steal a small portion of the gold that Melchior was bringing for the Savior.

Watching the production got me thinking about the 2003 process of designing that set.  Director and then-DMMO Artistic Director Robert Larsen contacted me the summer before (5 months or so in advance of the Decemeber production).

Detail: Adoration of the Magi, Bosch

Detail: Adoration of the Magi, Bosch

The Adoration of the Magi 1501-2, Durer


He was incredibly enthusiastic about it and we quickly chose to base the scenery on shapes and forms found in paintings and woodcuts by Renaissance artists Hieronymus Bosch, and Albrecht Durer. You can probably recognize many of the shapes and architectural forms in the photo of the set in the accompanying illustrations of the research.

Adoration of the Magi 1470, Bosch

Adoration of the Magi 1470, Bosch

Woodcut: Nativity 1504, Durer

Woodcut: Nativity 1504, Durer


While reviewing the design materials when current DMMO Artistic Director Michael Egel asked me if I still had any artwork of the setting for publicity purposes (I think that most was all lost when sent to the scene shop that built the set), I ran across some of the process materials.

AmahalPrelimDesignNotesbThe first item is a preliminary sketch on gridded paper with notes.  This is a little more sophisticated than a “napkin” drawing and was probably drawn at or before a 2nd or 3rd design meeting after conducting the research.


To the left is a simple CADD “white model” of the setting created in VectorWorks.

AmahalLineDrawingPerspectiveVectorWorks permits the creation of fully textured and colored CADD models; I  often prefer to switch to analog methods for later design steps. I use a light box to “trace up” from the CADD “white model” and create a more artistic representation of the setting.


The most complete extant artwork from the production is a shaded sketch that would have been preliminary to the color rendering that seems to have been lost.

Next post will address one of the scenic elements that DMMO borrowed from Theatre Simpson for the latest production.

Meanwhile, that’s enough for now! Have fun!  But be safe!




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