Arts & Culture

'Amahl' gets family touch

"Amahl and the Night Visitors" is a family-friendly opera about the Christmas story. Its presentation this weekend by Opera Kansas will certainly be a family affair for two of the opera's stars.

Nine-year-old Julia Glunt will sing Amahl. Singing Amahl's Mother will be Julia's real-life mom, Laura Taylor Glunt, 35. And in the chorus of shepherds will be Julia's little sister, Rebekah, 7.

"It's been a really neat thing," Laura Glunt said. "For us it's very natural."

Rehearsals over the past days have only added to the Glunts' regular schedule of music-making. Laura, a graduate of Wichita State, is a voice teacher, sings with Wichita Chamber Chorale, and directs two choirs at Maize United Methodist Church. Julia and Rebekah sing for their mom at church. Both Laura and Joel Glunt, an attorney, play piano and have helped Julia and Rebekah learn their music.

Julia fell in love with the stage when she was cast as the Littlest Munchkin in Music Theater of Wichita's production of "The Wizard of Oz." This fall, she auditioned to play Amahl and won the role.

"I'd like to keep performing as much as I can — opera, a play, musicals, all kinds of things," Julia Glunt said. "I really want to be on the stage."

"She came home and told me that now she could be a diva because she was going to be in an opera," Laura Glunt said.

It will be Laura Glunt's first time singing the role of Mother, though she directed a production of "Amahl" at Maize High School two years ago.

The opera, by Gian Carla Menotti, is less than an hour long and is sung in English.

The story resonates personally to Laura Glunt. Set in Palestine in Bible times, it's the story of Amahl, a crippled shepherd boy. (The role, for a child's soprano voice, can be sung by a boy or a girl.) He lives in poverty with his Mother, a widow. They two are visited by the Three Wise Men, who are following the Christmas star to Bethlehem.

When Amahl offers his crutch to the Wise Men as a present to the Baby Jesus, it results in a miraculous cure. Mother then consents to allow Amahl to travel to Bethlehem with the Kings.

"Julia and I had this conversation on the way home last night from rehearsal," Laura Glunt related. "I said, 'You give your most precious gift, your crutch, to Jesus. But think about what the Mother is giving. She's allowing her most precious procession, her own son, to leave.'

"And I think that's such a beautiful picture — just as God gave his own son, she is doing the same thing in her small way."

For Opera Kansas, Paul Brodene Smith will sing King Kaspar; Huron Breaux King Melchior and Steve Kimball King Balthazar. The Page will be Nicholas Gilmore. WSU's Mark Laycock will conduct the orchestra; Sarah Fraser will direct; choreography is by Amy Baker and Nicholas Johnson.

Performing in the opera will also be bittersweet for Laura, Julia and Rebekah — after Christmas the Glunts will move to southern California, where Joel Glunt has accepted a job. Though packing up and moving far from friends, voice students and musical colleagues will be difficult, Julia Glunt sees a positive in the relocation:

"Because that means I'm only about three hours away from Hollywood," she said.