Two new holiday presentations — one a new composition, the other a revival — add additional life to the season. The events also provide an opportunity to hear from the composers and get a peek into how the works were born.
Voices Chorale in Hopewell is presenting a new choral work by its assistant conductor, Laurel Christensen. It’s her 2019 award-winning work “I Saw a Star,” born when a poetic line in a novel lingered and ignited her imagination. As the Virginia-raised conductor and composer tells it:
A few years ago, I read Virginia Woolf’s novel “The Waves,” which explores, among other things, the thin line between collective and individual consciousness. Due in equal parts to the elusive nature of the text and to my forgetfulness, I remember very little about the novel aside from the many short segments of poetry, like this one, I underlined as I read.
“I saw a star riding through the clouds one night and I said to the star, ‘Consume me.’”
The line, spoken by Rhoda after her “humiliation at the garden party,” stayed with me. It echoes the combined sense of wonder and longing I have felt looking at anything suspended above me, particularly in the wake of some banal, unpleasant event. Sometimes the splendor of a star, a captivating church, or a compelling work of art can frustrate as much as they inspire. Sometimes it’s not enough to see or hear; we want to be enveloped.
I set out to capture this sentiment in this setting, where the sopranos are alternately suspended above and immersed in the undulating motion of the other voices before joining them in a final, resting harmony.
Voices Chorale will present the work during its “Out of Darkness Into Light” concert at Pennington Presbyterian Church on Friday, December 20, 8 p.m., and Trinity Episcopal Church, Saturday, December 21, 4 p.m. www.voiceschoralenj.org.
Boheme Opera’s new presentation of Italian-born American composer Gian-Carlo Menotti’s “Amahl and the Night Visitors,” created in 1951, holds the distinction of being the first opera written especially for television. But this “opera for children,” as the composer calls it, owes its existence to his childhood recollections and another work of art:
In Italy we have no Santa Claus. Our gifts were brought to us by the Three Kings, instead.
I actually never met the Three Kings — it didn’t matter how hard my little brother and I tried to keep awake at night to catch a glimpse of the Three Royal Visitors, we would always fall asleep just before they arrived.
But I do remember hearing them. I remember the weird cadence of their song in the dark distance; I remember the brittle sound of the camel’s hooves crushing the frozen snow; and I remember the mysterious tinkling of their silver bridles.
To these Three Kings I mainly owe the happy Christmas seasons of my childhood, and I should have remained very grateful to them. Instead, I came to America and soon forgot all about them, for here at Christmas time one sees so many Santa Clauses scattered all over town.
But in 1951 I found myself in serious difficulty. I had been commissioned by the National Broadcasting Company to write an opera for television, with Christmas as the deadline, and I simply didn’t have one idea in my head.
One November afternoon as I was walking rather gloomily through the rooms of the Metropolitan Museum, I chanced to stop in front of the “Adoration of the Kings” by Hieronymus Bosch, and as I was looking at it, suddenly I heard again, coming from the distant blue hills, the weird song of the Three Kings. I then realized they had come back to me and had brought me a gift.
Boheme Opera of New Jersey’s “Amahl and the Night Visitors,” Immaculate Conception Church, 540 Chestnut Avenue, Trenton, Saturday, December 7, 6 p.m. $25. www.bohemeopera.com.